UNC Exposes What's Missing in the Middle for UNC-Asheville

Glenn PettyAnalyst IDecember 1, 2008

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA 116, UNC-Asheville (Bulldogs, 3,609 students, Asheville, NC) 48

The final score would indicate two things: 1) UNC is really good, but we already knew that; and 2) that there is a really big hole in the middle of UNC-Asheville’s lineup.

The Bulldogs won 20 games last year and got within a dozen of UNC and 13 of Tennessee before heading off the NIT where they lost to Ohio State.

This season they are picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big South, and have started the season 3-3 with wins over non-powers Montreat, Belmont Abbey, and Liberty. Their losses have been to the Tar Heels last night and at the hands of Campbell, 94-57, and Wofford, 74-69. Hmmm.

So what’s missing?

Senior Kenny George, that’s what missing—all 7’7” of him.

George made news last year because he was really tall and a steady player in the middle for the Bulldogs. While you wouldn’t confuse George for a younger Shaq as he ambled up and down the court, he did lead the NCAA in field-goal percentage last year (70.6 percent).

Add to that, the big fella was the Big South defensive player of the year. The would-be senior averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds last season while averaging only 20 minutes of playing time. George's listed height of 7'7", according to UNC Asheville's official roster, puts him in the Shawn Bradley and Neil Fingleton category of one of the “tallest players in NCAA history.”

Most importantly, George had 93 blocked shots last season, ranking him eighth in the nation. That shot-blocking ability and his pure size (he's also 375 pounds) made it possible that he might find a place on an NBA roster.

While it was unlikely that he would be picked in the NBA’s short two-round draft, as a free agent he could probably find work just plugging up the middle for a few minutes or stopping an NBA big on a scoring rampage every now and then.

All of that, plus his senior year at UNC-Asheville, has gone out the window for now thanks to an infection that led to a partial amputation of his right foot. That’s tough when you consider the simple fact that George has endured a lifetime of stares and size-related inconveniences with an ever-diminishing chance of a payoff.

Back in August, George was diagnosed with MRSA (a difficult-to-treat staph infection) in his right foot. Hospitalized, doctors conducted several surgeries in an attempt to save his foot and his life. In October, doctors amputated part of the infected foot.

George is recovering and hopes to return to school in January, but in all likelihood his basketball career is probably over.

(Photos by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images and UNC-Asheville)