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March 22, 2007

Rebuilding process on track under Felton

ATHENS, Ga. -- For some teams, 19 wins and a Sweet 16 exit from the NIT isn't a notable season.

For a Georgia program building from the depths of an 8-20 finish only two seasons ago, any postseason bid was a notable return to respectability.

Georgia finished 19-14 this season, including an 8-8 Southeastern Conference record. The Bulldogs' season ended with Monday night's 83-52 blowout loss to Air Force in the NIT.

The 19-win mark was a continued upward path for coach Dennis Felton. Georgia, 8-20 overall and 2-14 in 2004-05, improved to 15-15 overall last season but was only 5-11 in conference games.

Considering that Georgia was still aiming for a bid to the NCAA tournament as late as the SEC tournament in Atlanta, the NIT wasn't the best of endings -- but it was the first postseason bid since 2004 for the program.

If not for the season-ending injury suffered by guard Mike Mercer late in the season, Georgia might have realized its NCAA dream. The Bulldogs were 3-5 after losing Mercer.

"I'm proud of what we accomplished this year," Felton told the Athens Banner-Herald. "We had a lot of success this season. ... We really grew and competed well in the best division of the best basketball conference in the country."

Georgia was 14-9 when it learned Mercer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a win over South Carolina. Mercer is expected to return as a junior next season.

Georgia loses only two seniors -- Steve Newman and Levi Stukes, a four-year starter.

Stukes was the team's top 3-point shooter.

The 2007-08 senior class is expected to include three returning starters: center Dave Bliss, forward Takais Brown and point guard Sundiata Gaines. Other top returning players include wing players Billy Humphrey and Terrance Woodbury and Rashaad Singleton, a top backup on the front line.

"Overall, the team we have coming back has a good upside," Gaines said.

"We'll have juniors and seniors, more experience. We should be a better contender throughout the league and the country."

Felton's 2007 signees includes point guard Zac Swansey and forwards Jeremy Price, Chris Barnes and Jeremy Jacob.

Brown scored 21 points, and Gaines had seven assists for Georgia in its 88-78 NIT opening round win over Fresno State.

For the season, Brown led the Bulldogs with 14.2 points per game. Gaines averaged 10.5 points and for the second straight season managed to lead the team in rebounds, averaging 5.7 per game.

Mercer was second on the team with his average of 13.5 points per game and was Georgia's top defensive player on the perimeter.



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