Originally created 06/20/03

The buck stops with Felton at UGA



ATHENS, Ga. -- Dennis Felton says his regime at Georgia will be different from the last one: If anything goes wrong, he's the man to see.

"I want to control everything I can control," the Bulldogs' new basketball coach said. "I don't want to leave anything to chance."

That's certainly a change from his predecessor, Jim Harrick, whose lack of control cleared the way for an embarrassing scandal that caused Georgia to pull out of the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments last season.

Harrick was forced to retire amid allegations that his son, assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr., was paying a player and teaching a sham class on coaching. The elder Harrick denied knowing about any of the malfeasance, a sort of don't-ask, don't-tell philosophy that led to his downfall.

Enter Felton, who vows to take a much different approach. If nothing else, there will be accountability at the top of the program.

"I certainly will be involved in how we are carrying ourselves and making an effort at cultivating the kind of image we want to enjoy," he said during a recent interview at his Stegeman Coliseum office.

Felton is quick to point out his academic record at Western Kentucky, where all but two players - both seniors he inherited in his first season - graduated on time.

"That doesn't happen by coincidence," he said. "That takes an incredible amount of attention. But that's an example of the kind of discipline and standard that I believe in."

Felton also had plenty of success on the court, guiding the Hilltoppers to three straight NCAA appearances and a 100-54 record in five seasons.

Before the scandal, Georgia was in line to make its third straight NCAA appearance for the first time in school history. But Felton seems to realize that he'll have a hard time maintaining that level of success, at least for the next year or two.

The Bulldogs lost their top two players from last season, Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams, and freshman Wayne Arnold was kicked off the team by Felton after being caught with pot in a dorm room.

Felton's first team will have a solid nucleus of seniors - Chris Daniels, Steve Thomas, Damien Wilkins, Rashad Wright and Jonas Hayes - but little depth beyond that. The new coach turned loose most of the recruits who had signed to play for Harrick, making the transition even more difficult.

Felton is unfazed by the adversity.

"We're not going to have any depth for a couple of years," he said. "We're going to rely heavily on walk-ons. Obviously, we will be at a disadvantage as long as we're not able to have a full team. But while we'll be short of bodies, we'll be long on heart."

The return of Jarvis Hayes would have helped matters, but he passed up Thursday's deadline to come back to school. He entered the NBA draft and expects to be a first-round pick.

His twin brother, Jonas, briefly considered quitting before deciding to come back for his final season. And the NCAA restored the eligibility of Daniels and Wright, both put off the team after being implicated in that phony coaching class.

All will be key players in Felton's first year, though he is still getting used to the new faces.

"There are plenty of people who probably know the team better than I do," he said. "I don't have a handle on the guys yet. I don't know the freshmen, and we're going to have to rely heavily on the freshmen.

"I do know there's one thing we can count on. We're going to play hard and we're going to develop. We'll be going about the business of learning to play together. We're going to understand good basketball and what it takes to play successful basketball."

Felton has already endured a hectic few months trying to get his program up and running, and things aren't slowing down. He returned to Kentucky this week to close the sale on his house and reunite with his wife and two small children, who remained behind after he left for Georgia.

Next week, Felton will head to Dallas to begin duties as an assistant coach for the U.S. team that will take part in the World Junior Championships. They'll travel to Greece early next month for the tournament, which begins July 10.

"I'm a little uptight about it," said Felton, who accepted the post while still at Western Kentucky. "But I never thought about not going."

On Saturday, Felton will mark another milestone: his 40th birthday. The move to Georgia forced his wife to call off plans for a big party.

Not that Felton considers this birthday any big deal.

"I still feel like I'm 25 years old," he said. "I still feel like a guy who's trying to do something with himself."