ATHENS -- Georgia didn’t hold open walk-out tryouts when Taylor Echols was a freshman. So he just kept going to the games, as he had since he was a baby.
Last year, the open tryouts were held, and Echols got his shot.
“It was the first time I’d actually practiced in Stegeman (Coliseum), so that was something else,” Echols said. “I’ve been a Georgia fan all of my life, so that was a lot of fun for me, getting to meet (head) Coach (Mark Fox) and everything.”
If just trying out was “something else,” then what happened Saturday was rather incredible.
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Echols, a 5-foot-10 guard from McDonough, played most of the game at point guard for Georgia, scoring nine points, and keyed an 84-75 win over Lipscomb.
Charles Mann, Georgia’s leading scorer and starting point guard, didn’t play because of a bruised shin. In his place for 23 minutes was Echols, who two years ago just showed up at an open tryout after spending a year as a regular student.
It’s not that Georgia’s roster is decimated. The team is at the 13-scholarship limit, and Mann was the only injured player for Saturday’s game. Echols just played because he had earned it, according to Fox, even over freshman point guard J.J. Frazier, who did not play at all.
“I thought Taylor in the last 10 days has practiced terrifically,” Fox said. “I thought he deserved to play.”
Echols said he didn’t have any scholarship offers out of Eagle’s Landing Christian. There were only nibbles from “one or two NAIA schools.” So he went to Georgia, which both of his parents attended, and where he was no stranger, either.
But even most walk-ons at the SEC level are recruited somewhat. Echols just showed up at the open tryout, which Fox admitted was rare.
“You could tell in the tryout that this guy had a real knack to shoot the ball,” Fox said.
“Basketball was something I wanted to give a shot at least, because I’ve been coming to games since I was (a year) old,” Echols said.
Echols didn’t get to play last season, having joined the team too late. This season, he had logged 33 minutes, scoring nine points, all on 3s. Then came the big chance Saturday, created by Mann’s injury and Echols’ practice performances.
“He’s playing so good in practice, so it’s like, you have to put him in,” said sophomore forward Brandon Morris, who handled the point when Echols wasn’t in the game.
Morris had 17 points to lead Georgia (4-4), which led by as many as 19 early in the second half. But Lipscomb (4-6) shot its way back with 10 3-pointers in the second half.
Morris eventually had the key stretch to put it away: A 3-pointer, followed by a steal and then alley-oop dunk to make it an 11-point game with two minutes left.
It had been a four-point game with 7:47 left. Then Fox put Echols back in the game, and the lead was soon back up to nine.
“We were obviously better with Taylor in there against the zone than we were Brandon,” Fox said.
“It was definitely a lot of fun,” Echols said. “My parents and my sister were here, so that’s a lot of fun, too. It’s definitely exciting being on the court and being able to help out the Dogs.”