ATLANTA - Trey Thompkins is savoring his first chance to play in the NCAA tournament, especially since his postseason dream was the reason he returned for his junior season at Georgia.
Georgia finished 12-20 and 14-17 in Thompkins' first two seasons. To some, it may have sounded overly optimistic when he announced last April he would remain in school because he believed the Bulldogs could make this year's NCAA tournament.
Thompkins said he feels good about his decision. Georgia (21-11) is the No. 10 seed in the East Regional and will play No. 7 seed Washington on Friday night in Charlotte, N.C.
It has been a rocky season for Thompkins. He missed the first three games with a severe ankle sprain. He also has had shin and toe injuries.
Along the way, his scoring and rebounding averages dipped slightly. He was an AP first team All-SEC selection last year, when he averaged 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. He was named a second-team All-SEC pick on Monday with averages of 16.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.
No matter. Thompkins said finally making the NCAA field makes up for it all.
"Knowing that I came back to school for this reason and it's going to be carried out makes me feel so much better about the decision I made," he said.
Thompkins said the added bonus to the NCAA bid was the chance to play in Charlotte, only a few hours from Athens.
"They could have sent us somewhere crazy," Thompkins said. "I'm happy to be in Charlotte so the Bulldog Nation can be there and cheer us on."
Thompkins (6-10, 245) is a difficult matchup, thanks to his ability to score inside and with long jumpers.
The leg injuries hurt his 3-point shooting for most of the season, but has backed up his claim that he is healthy for the postseason.
Thompkins made three of five 3-pointers while leading Georgia with 22 points and 10 rebounds in a Southeastern Conference tournament win over Auburn.
He made 8 of 10 shots from the field and had 19 points in Georgia's overtime loss to Alabama in the SEC quarterfinals.
Coach Mark Fox likes Georgia's balance. Travis Leslie (14.5) and Gerald Robinson (12.2) also have scoring averages in double figures. Every starter, including forward Jeremy Price (6-8, 270) and shooting guard Dustin Ware, has had 20-point games.
The high-flying Leslie is Georgia most dynamic player.
Price is the most physical around the basket. Robinson, a transfer from Tennessee State, is the floor leader who was this season's only new starter.
But Fox knows Thompkins is the key to Georgia's hopes against Washington.
"Usually with Trey, we have been able to build around him," Fox said after the win over Auburn. "With as much as he's been through this year, that hasn't always been the case.
"When he's scoring as well as he is, we didn't have to go too many other places. We didn't shoot the ball great today. But we had some open shots because Trey was playing well."
Fox took three Nevada teams to the NCAA tournament before taking the Georgia job two years ago. He has reached the NCAA tournament in his second year in Athens.
"What's been maybe most unique about this group is that these guys hadn't won as a unit before," Fox said. "And for them to face as many challenges in turning a program around as they have, they have faced those head on.
"They went into uncharted territory with a great deal of trust in their coaches and each other, and that's really been a joy to experience."
Thompkins said he "was on pins and needles for a couple of days" as he waited for Sunday's NCAA selection show.
"I wanted to be in the tournament so bad," he said.
"It's a blessing to have gotten here so quickly, by doing the things that we did this year, being as together as we were and working as hard as we have to get to the point."