After Sunday's loss to No. 2 Kentucky, the Georgia men's basketball team had a little more than 48 hours to prepare for tonight's visit from No. 3 Florida.
Such a quick turnaround would be trying under the most normal of circumstances, but things have been far from normal the past five days in Athens, Ga.
Bulldogs coach Jim Harrick has endured intense criticism since former player Tony Cole told ESPN last week that Harrick's son, assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr., sent $300 to a friend to cover Cole's phone bill; paid for $1,200 worth of lodging for Cole at two Athens hotels; took a correspondence course for Cole at a community college in Illinois; and gave Cole an A for a physical education class taught by Harrick Jr. that Cole never attended.
Things got worse Monday, when Harrick had to prepare for the Gators without two of his best players. Just before the start of practice, junior point guard Rashad Wright and junior forward Chris Daniels were taken to be questioned by NCAA representatives who are in Athens investigating Cole's claims.
The two players also took the course taught by Harrick Jr. Team spokesman Tim Hix said he expected Wright and Daniels to play tonight. There were indications, however, that the status of the two players wouldn't be determined until this afternoon.
On Monday morning, Harrick revealed for the first time how he has been personally affected by Cole's allegations.
"It's hard on my wife and I, and my son and my whole family," Harrick said on a teleconference with reporters covering the Southeastern Conference. "I've got sons and daughters-in-law and grand kids. It's not fun for anybody. It's not something you get into this business for. You hate to be accused of anything."
Later Monday, ESPN reported the University of Rhode Island is launching its own investigation of alleged improprieties by Harrick and Harrick Jr. Christine King, a clerk in the Rhode Island athletics department, has made allegations that are similar to those the Harricks now face at Georgia.
Harrick was the head coach at the school for two seasons before taking the job at Georgia in 1999. Harrick Jr. was an assistant there during the 1998-99 season.
The elder Harrick has repeatedly denied the most recent allegations and said Cole will eventually be proved wrong. Monday, he denied a published report that quoted him as saying the money for the phone bill was provided by the Dale Brown Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps needy students.
Brown, a former basketball coach at Louisiana State, vehemently denied that his foundation provided the money. Harrick said he and Brown have talked "about three or four times" recently to reconcile.
"Since Tony has been to Georgia, the Dale Brown foundation has had nothing to do with him," Harrick said. "I want to make that clear. We had an overzealous writer trying to scoop people and made a comment that was inaccurate. Dale has been very, very professional and very good. I wouldn't do anything to hurt him or his foundation."
Cole, who was kicked off the team and left school in December, provided ESPN with a Western Union receipt that bore Jim Harrick's name. Cole said Harrick Jr., who has been suspended with pay, wired him the money. Harrick has yet to say where the money came from or to publicly offer answers to Cole's other allegations.
The university and the SEC are conducting their own investigations.
"It'll all come out in the end," Harrick said.
The tumultuous backdrop has made tonight's game (9, ESPN) seem somewhat secondary. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs find themselves at a critical point as the regular season winds down.
Given the off-court distractions and the formidable presence of Kentucky, Sunday's loss was far from embarrassing. Georgia was competitive and led late before the Wildcats pulled away for their NCAA-leading 18th straight victory.
Beating Florida (24-4, 12-2 SEC) could give the Bulldogs (17-8, 9-5) momentum for a high NCAA Tournament seed. They should be favored to win Sunday's regular-season finale at South Carolina, and a favorable showing in next week's SEC Tournament in New Orleans could allow them to avoid a difficult first-round matchup in the NCAAs.
Georgia guard Ezra Williams said the quick turnaround and the hard times won't affect the Bulldogs once they step onto the hardwood tonight.
"We could play the game (Monday)," Williams said. "There's so much nonsense going on around here. I can't worry about Tony Cole. I have to worry about Florida."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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