‘A lot of points to make up’ for Georgia basketball

Georgia’s men’s basketball team was represented at SEC Media Days here Wednesday by its leading returning scorer. But Nemanja Djurisic averaged only 7.9 points per game last season.

Is it weird, he was asked, to find himself the top returning scorer with such a lowly number?

“Weird?” he said, smiling. “Looking at the points, yeah.”

But Djurisic’s distinction sums up a big challenge facing the Bulldogs as they prepare for the season: How do they replace the 48 percent of last season’s scoring that was provided by players no longer on the roster, including the team-leading 18.5 points per game by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an NBA draft lottery pick?

“There’s a lot of points to make up,” Djurisic said, “and I think all of the returning guys see a big opportunity to step up this year and be leaders and score.

“I think we’re going to do that through team effort, unselfishness, sharing the ball as much as we can, running the floor and proudly sharing all the productivity on the team.”

Georgia returns eight players with substantial game experience, although only two who started the majority of last season’s games: forwards Donte’ Williams, who averaged 5.1 points, and Brandon Morris, 4.1. Williams is the team’s only senior.

Other returnees include guard Charles Mann, who was named to the SEC’s all-freshman team and averaged 6.7 points last season; guard Kenny Gaines, who averaged 3.7 points in 10.3 minutes per game; and forward Marcus Thornton, who is back from a third knee surgery.

“We lost the best player in the league … but even if (Caldwell-Pope) had returned, I think you would have found us a more balanced offensive team,” coach Mark Fox said Wednesday. “We’re going to need that balance, but I think we finally have a level of experience and physicality and a full complement of players.

“Kenny Gaines is obviously the No. 1 candidate to replace Kentavious in the lineup, but we can’t say, ‘Hey, Kenny, go get 20 a night.’ That’s not fair. So it’s going to have to be by committee.”

Caldwell-Pope was the SEC’s player of the year last season as Georgia tied for eighth place in the SEC with a 9-9 league record (15-17 overall). Detroit made him the eighth pick of the draft. Without him, Georgia is picked to finish 11th in the SEC, according to the preseason media survey released Wednesday.

“It’s a team I’m excited about,” Fox said.

As for the poll, he said, “To be honest with you, I haven’t seen it. I don’t look at it, don’t care, so I don’t worry about it.”

According to Djurisic, the players were driven in the offseason by the challenge presented by losing Caldwell-Pope.

“Everyone knows what we lost and how much points we lost,” Djurisic said. “Everyone is trying to get better, and I think everyone did get better through the summer and took ownership of this team.”