Georgia begins life after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

To date, most of the focus on Georgia basketball has been on who will not play for the Bulldogs this season. This week, the focus shifts to who will be.

The Bulldogs’ season gets underway in earnest. They will face Mercer in a private scrimmage at an undisclosed location Sunday, will play host to North Carolina-Pembroke in an exhibition at Stegeman Coliseum on Monday, then officially open the season at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Wofford.

They will do so, of course, without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The SEC’s Player of the Year, who led the Bulldogs in scoring (18.5 ppg), rebounding (7.1) and seven other statistical categories last season, clearly made the right decision in turning pro after his sophomore season. He became an NBA lottery draft pick of the Detroit Pistons and will make $2.7 million this season.

But the Bulldogs will seek to compensate for the loss of Caldwell-Pope not by finding a player to replace him, but by finding several players to replace him.

“It’s going to get distributed by committee,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox, in his fifth season at the helm of the program. “We’re going to be more balanced. … It’s not fair to ask one guy to replace a guy like Kentavious. We’re going to have to be balanced now that he’s gone.”

There are a lot of candidates. Start with the returning sophomore triumvirate of Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris. The Bulldogs will blend those guys and seven other returning lettermen with five newcomers and try to compensate for Caldwell-Pope’s loss with a more democratic approach to scoring.

If there is any player who might come close to emulating Caldwell-Pope, it’s Gaines. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard averaged 3.7 points in limited minutes as Caldwell-Pope’s backup last season. But he showed a penchant for scoring in bunches when the situation called for him to stay on the court. He scored 12 points in 15 minutes against Tennessee and scored 11 in a game against South Carolina.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” said Gaines, who averaged 27 points as a senior at Whitefield Academy. “I just want to come in and display the talents I have that were kind of stored away last year. I want to let loose a little bit this year and just play basketball.”

Others have been recruited to help. Freshmen Juwan Parker and Kenny Paul Geno and junior college transfer Cameron Forte are built similarly to Caldwell-Pope and are perimeter scorers who can attack the basket. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs go three-deep at their post positions. They’ll be paced by 6-foot-9 senior Donte’ Williams and 6-8 juniors Nemanja Djurisic and Marcus Thornton.

They also will take a committee approach to leadership. Caldwell-Pope probably didn’t get enough credit in that regard.

“Ken obviously was an outstanding player, one of the best I’ve ever played with,” said Thornton, finally healthy after three knee surgeries. “But he was also a great leader with a great work ethic and competitive spirit. So we’ve got to make up for all those things.

“Individually there may be a guy on our team who can do what he did, but I think it will have to be a team approach. I think we can do that.”