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 ten 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%).
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 is listed at 7-foot-7 according to UNC Asheville's official roster which 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 (7’7” 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 George’s right foot. That’s tough when you consider the simple fact that George has endured a life-time 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 is basketball career is probably over.
(Editor's Note: We originally wrote that George returned from the Pete Newell Big Man Camp in Las Vegas with the staph infection that was ultimately responsible for the partial amputation. TAH was contacted by Roger Newell (the son of the late famous coach) who told us that George played one day and "sat out with a leg problem he told my dad (before he passed away) had been bothering him for awhile." Pete Newell then told George to be sure to check with his team doctors immediately after returning to North Carolina. According to the younger Newell, "the kid stayed with a friend in Las Vegas and not with other campers at Camp hotel the entire time he was in Las Vegas," and there were no other players that suffered any injuries or staph infections at the 2008 camp George briefly attended).
(Photos by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images and UNC-Asheville)