Originally created 12/04/01

Dawgs surprise even their coach with 5-0 start



ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia lost five of its top seven scorers from a year ago, and the Bulldogs weren't exactly a powerhouse program to begin with.

Then, the top newcomer went down with a knee injury that could keep him out a month.

Oh my, this program is hurting, right?

Think again. The Bulldogs are perfect after five games and need one more victory for their best start since 1982-83 - when they made it all the way to the Final Four for the only time.

"This takes it up another level," said forward Ezra Williams, leading the team with 21.4 points per game. "We can take it as far as we want."

Heady words for a school that went 10-20 two seasons ago. Last season, the Bulldogs got into the NCAA tournament with a 16-14 record, their reward for a brutal schedule.

Georgia was beaten by Missouri in the first round, then said good-bye to starters D.A. Layne, Anthony Evans and Shon Coleman, along with top reserves Robb Dryden and Adrian Jones.

This certainly isn't a well-oiled basketball machine such as Duke or Kentucky that simply reloads with prep All-Americans each season.

The Bulldogs have just five returning players - who totaled less than 24 points per game last season - and no prominent high school signees on the roster.

Coach Jim Harrick tried to get Damien Wilkens on the court, only to be rebuffed by the NCAA. The transfer from North Carolina State has to sit out a year.

Then things really got desperate when Jarvis Hayes, a transfer from Western Carolina and perhaps the team's best player, sprained a knee in practice after the third game. He's out 2-to-4 weeks.

Over the weekend, the Bulldogs took the court against Colorado with a lineup that included two point guards (6-foot Rashad Wright and 5-11 Tony Cole) and no one taller than 6-8 Steve Thomas.

The Buffaloes, on the other hand, had highly touted 7-foot freshman David Harrison in the middle, plus two other 6-9 players on the court. Still, Georgia managed to wipe out an 11-point deficit and pull away for an 81-73 victory.

"I'm very surprised," Harrick said. "I didn't expect this team to be able to compete with the type of size they've got. But the last nine minutes, we ran our offense to perfection."

He shouldn't be surprised. A couple of weeks ago, Georgia beat then-No. 16 Georgetown 73-59 in the Tipoff Classic.

The Bulldogs dominated the boards in that game, 52-37, just as they have outrebounded every opponent this season. Overall, they have a plus-7.8 edge in rebounding differential - remarkable for a team with no true center.

"People talk about big teams, but we've already beaten two of them," Williams said. "It's the size of the heart that counts."

Georgia has its best start since 1994-95 and can really turn back the clock by beating Georgia State on Tuesday night.

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Hayes brought along his twin brother, Jonas, from Western Carolina. The other Hayes was considered the weaker link, but he scored 17 points against Colorado, hitting jumpers from all over the court.

"He's not surprising me at all," Williams said. "I knew he was a great player, it's just that Jarvis is better. He gets all the respect. But Jonas is going to be a sleeper. He brings it every night."

Jonas doesn't mind his brother getting most of the attention, which only intensified when the sophomore scored 40 points in an exhibition game, shooting 9-of-10 outside the 3-point arc.

"It doesn't anger me," Jonas said. "Jarvis is a heck of a player. But it does motivate me a little bit."

The Bulldogs are probably getting fired up about their lack of respect in the polls.

While Georgetown maintains its Top 25 spot - the Hoyas are No. 19 this week - the Bulldogs remain stuck in the "Also Receiving Votes" category.

"Hopefully," Williams said, "people are going to realize this is a special team."