Unusual Senior Day for struggling Georgia basketball team

LSU forward Will Baker (9) defends against Georgia center Russel Tchewa (54) during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

LSU forward Will Baker (9) defends against Georgia center Russel Tchewa (54) during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)

ATHENS — Like it does everywhere these days, Senior Day will have a bit of a different feel to it for the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.

Of the seven players who will participate, none of them started their college careers at UGA. At least three of them already have gone through Senior Days at other institutions before transferring to Georgia. Senior Jabri Abdur-Rahim, who started his career at Virginia, has played for the Bulldogs the longest, at three full seasons. None of them are from the state of Georgia, while three of them hail from another country.

Actually, that’s a quite common roster makeup here in the age of the transfer portal. The days of freshmen signing out of high school and sticking at one school for four years are long gone.

But there will be no asterisks next to their names when they’re recognized before Saturday’s game against Texas A&M (6 p.m., SEC Network). As far as coach Mike White is concerned, they’re all Bulldogs through and through.

“It’s still significant,” White said. “It’s also unique in another way, in that we’ve got three games left. … It feels like we’ve still got a lot of basketball left. But it’s a chance to celebrate our seniors, a bunch of guys who have represented us well and helped build – helped rebuild – the foundation of this program.

Like the rest of the team, the seniors arrive at the 29th game somewhat frustrated. Georgia has proved itself this season to be one of the SEC’s more competitive teams. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, though, they remain one of the least successful.

Losers of eight of their past nine games, Georgia (15-13, 5-10 SEC) might need to win out to avoid the unenviable distinction of playing on the first night of the SEC Tournament (March 13) for the third consecutive year. The bottom four teams in the conference standings each season meet in what’s considered “play-in games.”

Missouri (8-20, 0-15) and Vanderbilt (8-20, 3-12) appear to have the bottom two spots locked up. Georgia and Arkansas (14-14 5-10) currently are tied for 11th place, just one game behind Texas A&M (15-13, 6-9), Saturday’s opponent and Ole Miss (19-9, 6-9). The Rebels come to Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday night for Georgia’s home finale.

Not playing in the dreaded play-in round is a modest goal, certainly, but would represent improvement for the basketball program.

“We’re building something that’s bigger than me,” said guard Noah Thomasson, who joked that this actually will be his fourth Senior Day, including high school and junior college. “Our record may not show it, but it’s a process. While our record might not show it, us being competitive like we are in the SEC, I think we’re going to keep making strides here every year under coach White.”

Like Georgia, A&M has been in a bit of a nosedive of late. The Aggies have lost five games in row. But a closer look reveals that three of those defeats came at the hands of top-18 opponents. Meanwhile, A&M owns four wins this season over teams currently ranked in this week’s Top 25 – No. 4 Tennessee, No. 8 Iowa State, No.15 Kentucky and No. 24 Florida.

The Aggies are led by 6-foot guard Wade Taylor, who ranks among the league’s top scorers (18.7 ppg) and ranks in the SEC’s top 10 in five statistical categories. Tyrece Radford is averaging 15.3 ppg, and Anderson Garcia is the SEC’s leading rebounder at 9.5 rpg.

With a NET ranking of 58 and its remaining regular-season games scheduled against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, A&M comes to Athens believing it can win all three to pull to .500 in league play and put itself back into the postseason discussion.

In Georgia’s most recent outing, the Bulldogs lost to an opponent they held under 70 points for only the second time in 27 games under White. Facing LSU in Baton Rouge, Georgia lost a late lead with 15 seconds remaining and senior Justin Hill missed a contested layup on the game’s final play.

That was the fourth time in the past five games in which the Bulldogs were in position to win in the final minute. On the season, 13 of the Bulldogs’ 28 games have been a one-possession game in the last five minutes; Georgia is 6-7 in those games. Eleven have been a one-possession contest in the last 90 seconds; Georgia is 4-7 in those games. Eight have been a one-possession game in the last 30 seconds; Georgia is 4-4 in those games.

Tuesday’s game against LSU fell into that last category. But White insists his team is anything but disillusioned.

“Guys were flying around (in practice this week),” he said. “They’re excited about another opportunity. This Senior Day talk hasn’t even come up. Our guys like being in the gym, like to work and know they still have opportunities ahead of them.”

Georgia’s “seniors” who will be escorted to center court for Saturday’s pregame recognition include:

Jabri Abdur-Rahim: The 6-8 senior wing with the famous basketball last name (his father is Shareef Abdur-Rahim) came to UGA from Virginia as a sophomore. After playing back-up roles his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Abdur-Rahim developed into one of the SEC’s best 3-point shooters and became a starter this season.

Noah Thomasson: The 6-4 guard is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 13 points per game. In his only season at Georgia, he’s been known to heat up from 3-point range. He’s made five or more in four games and also scored 20 or more points four times. A native of Houston, he transferred to Georgia from Niagra College in New York.

Russel Tchewa: The 7-foot, 275-pound center from Cameroon has been a block of granite in the middle of Georgia’s lineup all season. Playing 25 minutes a game while starting all 28 for the Bulldogs, Tchewa averages 7.8 poinys and 6.7 rebounds. He recorded three double-doubles and just missed out on three others. He started career at Texas Tech and came to UGA after three seasons at South Florida.

Justin Hill: Another Houston product, Hill accepted the role of being a spark off the bench for the Bulldogs this season after playing almost exclusively as a starter the rest of his career. He provided some of the biggest highlights of the season, including sinking the game-winning basket on a pull-up jumper on the road against Florida State. He averages nine points a game and leads Georgia with 97 assists.

R.J. Sunahara: Nicknamed “Sunny,” the were big expectations for the former Division II player of the year. But a preseason knee injury slowed his preseason development, then he played limited minutes at the beginning of games. He’s started in 11 of the 12 games in which he’s played, but averaged only 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds.

Frank Anselem-Ibe: The 6-10 center never reached the heights expected for him when he transferred from Syracuse as a junior in 2022. He’s averaged only 2.7 points and 2.6 rebounds over his two seasons with the Bulldogs, but his 5 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks down the stretch against South Carolina were critical to Georgia pulling off the 74-69 upset on Jan. 16 in Columbia.

Matthew-Alexander “M.A.” Moncrieffe: The unanimous pick of his teammates as the team’s best dunker, Moncrieffe had to settle for mostly a bit role in his final season in Athens. A native of Toronto, Ontario, the 6-8 forward was a 4-star prospect when he signed with Oklahoma State out of high school. After starting 26 of 28 games his first season at UGA, Moncrieffe has played in just 11 games his final season with three starts. He’s averaging 1.1 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.