Mark Fox’s ‘process’ at Georgia just went into high gear

Trey Thompkins (AP photo)

Trey Thompkins (21 points) and the Dogs have reached unexpected heights already (AP photo)

ATHENS – Until the tournament berths, Mark Fox sells hope. Until some of the five-star basketball recruits who have been drifting out of the state stop and think, “Wait, why not Georgia?” the Bulldogs’ new coach will talk about concepts like commitment and work ethic and building a program the right way.

And he’ll tell stories like this: “I had dinner with Ramon Sessions in the fall. He just signed a four-year, $16 million contract [with Minnesota] Here’s a guy we signed at Nevada two weeks before his freshman year. Nobody wanted him. But he turned into a great player. The key is finding players willing to commit to the process.”

But nobody could have figured the process would produce results this dramatic. Or this soon. Why not Georgia?

Midway through Fox’s first season, the Bulldogs just upset a top-10 team for the first time in six years and played before a home sellout for the first time in three.

Mark: Any thoughts on the economy? Global warming? Football games in Jacksonville?

The Bulldogs leveled eighth-ranked Tennessee 78-63 at a packed Stegeman Coliseum. There’s your implausible double of the season. They led much of the second-half by 20-plus points, boat-racing a Tennessee team that came into the game with a 15-2 record and a win over top-ranked Kansas.

“They probably thought it was going to be a cakewalk,” said guard Ebuka Anyaorah.

It’s only one win, much like the upset over Georgia Tech was only one win, much like the upset of Illinois was only one win. But together, that’s three improbable results in a 9-8 season that, well, didn’t figure to be a 9-8 season at this stage.

So much baggage in the program. Seemingly so little talent on the roster. The sense of dread looming so large. Can one coach change things this quickly?

“I’m excited because there’s some excitement around the program,” said athletics director Damon Evans, who hired Fox. “People have responded to what coach Fox is doing. We’re still building. But when you get a signature win like this, it says a lot about the commitment of this team. It says a lot about Mark Fox and his staff, and to have the fans here.”

Senior center Albert Jackson knows what last place and an empty arena look like. He was there a year ago when a 26-point loss at Florida, and all that preceded it, led to coach Dennis Felton’s firing. Even with an 0-3 start this season in the SEC, he never sensed doom.

“It was about this time last season when we lost our first [four] SEC games, and we went to down to Florida and got blown out,” Jackson said. “This year, it was [a similar] situation against a top-10 team. But it was a whole different demeanor. Guys are confident in the system and confident in the coach. Guys were upbeat.”

They passed the ball with efficiency. They dominated the paint (20 of their 42 first-half points came on dunks or layups). Trey Tompkins (21 points, eight rebounds) and Travis Leslie (19 points, nine rebounds) were a combined 17-of-24 from the floor.

Stegeman was electric. Who knew that was even a scientific possibility?

When Leslie jammed home a rebound to make the score 72-48 with 6:28 left, the building rocked.

“This is one of the reasons I came to Georgia,” Fox said, referencing the crowd. “We just had a great college basketball game at Stegeman.”

It couldn’t have hurt the football program, either. Mark Richt, Mike Bobo and Rodney Garner were in the building, seated in the recruits section.

Who imagined a basketball game could give football a competitive advantage?

183 comments Add your comment

Mr Charlie

January 23rd, 2010
8:51 pm

I don’t want to be first, I want to be the last one on the page, so people read it over and over before they click to the next page.

Jeff Schultz

January 23rd, 2010
8:55 pm

DawgMania

January 23rd, 2010
8:56 pm

MoeRock

January 23rd, 2010
8:57 pm

Travis Leslie has hops. Kid has freak abilities. I hope Fox continues to develop him and gives UGA it’s first NBA player since Damien Wilkens and Jarvis “no money for clothes” Hayes.

Beeeeg Boy

January 23rd, 2010
8:59 pm

Two wins over UT in same week!!! So Sweet!!!!!!

smittydawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:00 pm

There is something special starting to happen with this program. We have some talent and a damn good coach. It is an unbelievable transformation in just one year. I can’t wait for UF and KY to come to town!

IslandDawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:02 pm

Paul ( You doesn't have to call me Johnson)

January 23rd, 2010
9:03 pm

Love watching that Bruce Pearl! UGA up 24 points at one time in the 2nd half. How much fun is that?

IslandDawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:03 pm

Not even close, but I couldn’t believe there was only one comment when I got to the end of the article!

The Lone Trumpeter

January 23rd, 2010
9:05 pm

Dancing anyone? I’m game. GO DAWGS!!!!

IslandDawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:05 pm

MoeRock: did you see Sundiata Gaines winning three the other night?…in the NBA.

Rutledge84

January 23rd, 2010
9:08 pm

Got tickets for the Vandy game. Should be a good one in two weeks.

JB

January 23rd, 2010
9:09 pm

Beeeeg Boy,

Make that four wins. Both the Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams also beat UT today!

IslandDawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:10 pm

Herschel Talker

January 23rd, 2010
9:10 pm

Schultzie – you the man!

Nerd Central @ North Ave

January 23rd, 2010
9:16 pm

Jeff,

You remind me of Tony Kornheiser (sp?). A really dorky looking guy who is mostly really hard to follow in his stupid jokes and is quite annoying, but occasionally has something of substance to write about.

Mr Charlie

January 23rd, 2010
9:21 pm

Dude, comparing Jeff to Tonky K? That is cruel.

Russ is at it again

January 23rd, 2010
9:25 pm

Russ the Temporary Mascot just painted Bruce Pearl’s @ss white. And they say you can’t have fun in Stegeman Coliseum.

JasonDawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:26 pm

Sadly, he’ll be gone in a short while. Big BASKETBALL programs will pick him up. Mr. Evans better think of something quick to keep him here or else we’ll just a pit stop for a great coach.

boots

January 23rd, 2010
9:27 pm

Loved watching the DAWGS kick some volunteer tail today. Amazing turn around for the basketball program. Our last three SEC losses were almost victories (one should have been) and all were against really good teams. Kentucky was lucky to beat us in KY. Congrats to CMF and the team. Glad to have them here. Now, let’s build a new arena!!!

IslandDawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:29 pm

bart

January 23rd, 2010
9:33 pm

We could easily be (and probably should be) 4 and 0 in the SEC. Fox is a helluva coach. We need to get behind this team. Given 2 or 3 years, we’ll be one of the elite basketball teams in the SEC, just like in football.

Something's afoot

January 23rd, 2010
9:33 pm

Not to split hairs, but don’t you step on the gas and slam on the brakes?

WestOfAthens

January 23rd, 2010
9:34 pm

I admonish your remarks Jeff, well played indeed.

This win was inevitable, it was forseen due to the progress thus far. Just think (or i will happily do), this UGA team could be 4-0 SEC.

While my comment may be soley in approval of your banter, and untimely correctness (go figure), i still think you are a schmoe

Tony

January 23rd, 2010
9:36 pm

I agree JasonDawg. Evans, give the man a big raise NOW. We want to keep him in Athens!!

Athens, Ga. Dog

January 23rd, 2010
9:37 pm

UT, go home!!! The state is Georgia and it is ours!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bring the turncoat Dooley to see us in the fall and we will kick your a$$es again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
HBTD

Something's afoot

January 23rd, 2010
9:39 pm

Slammed on the gas? Is the AJC in such desperate straits they are outsourcing their headline writers to a call center in India?

Legend of Len Barker

January 23rd, 2010
9:42 pm

The Steg was a wonderful place to be tonight. This is the third men’s game I’ve attended this season, in addition to the women’s win over Tennessee.

This is as electric as they’ve been. I doubt there were 3,000 for the opener against New Orleans. I knew it’d be pretty full tonight, but was shocked by the sold out sign when I got there at 3:40. Student season tickets are awesome for that reason alone.

Dustin Ware needs a mention. He’s not an exciting player like Thompkins or Leslie, but he’s a rock solid point guard.

I also want to thank Bruce Pearl. His nepotism really helped. His son is getting way more playing time than he should, be we all did enjoy it very much when he had a shot blocked late in the game.

bad brad

January 23rd, 2010
9:42 pm

I think you step on the gas and slam on the brakes. I’m just sayin…

Ml

January 23rd, 2010
9:44 pm

Makes us proud to bleed red. GO DAWGS.

Right On Time

January 23rd, 2010
9:44 pm

Lots of fun tonight at that game. It was not as “electric” as it can be. It felt like everyone was waiting on the wheels to come off like the last 3 games. Lots of fun though. Also, it is always nice seeing that ugly orange exit any venue early.

On a side note: To all those that continually trash the Steg…go see a game. I sat with my family in section OO row 17 (at the very top) and my 10 and 7 year olds had no problem following the action. We got in and out easy and had a great time. The Steg is a great place to see a game without a bad seat.

A finally happy season ticket holder

January 23rd, 2010
9:46 pm

I arrived at the game thirty minutes early and had to park way out in BFE. Hop on the bandwagon folks, it’s gonna fill up quickly. There’ll be setbacks but this program is quickly moving in the right direction.

Socal Dawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:50 pm

What a coach! And talk about a team with heart. Go Dawgs!

GMac

January 23rd, 2010
9:52 pm

Georgia has a basketball team?

GMac

January 23rd, 2010
9:52 pm

How many SEC wins is that now?

Russ4Heisman.net

January 23rd, 2010
9:53 pm

Kevin Ware, were you watching?

Philly GT Fan

January 23rd, 2010
9:55 pm

Congrats dawgs….nice win

Gator Nation

January 23rd, 2010
9:55 pm

Wednesday night will be just like football!

Whopper Dawg

January 23rd, 2010
9:56 pm

It has been so long since we have had a competitive BBall program that I think I am going to cry. Hard to believe that Felton let it get so bad and that Evans put up with it that long. Fox’s hire was a shocker, but kudos to Evans for making that hire.

D-day

January 23rd, 2010
10:03 pm

The difference between this year and last? Coach Fox’s professionalism and competence. I think Coach Felton had the discipline part down, but there was obviously some missing element. Make no mistake, the Dogs are still building toward consistent success, but Coach Fox seems to have that missing element.

dominobeer

January 23rd, 2010
10:05 pm

Great win by the dawgs. Weird how this was front page news, yet Tech’s victory over UNC was hardly recognized.

Fridawg

January 23rd, 2010
10:06 pm

We’ve got to give Damon Evans some love for the good hire. Dooley was great at hiring the right coaches, it looks like we’re in good hands with Damon. In a year or two we’ll need to entice Fox to stay. Hopefully, Damon is already making plans.

Dawg Foot

January 23rd, 2010
10:13 pm

Fox will leave if we get good.

Dawg2012

January 23rd, 2010
10:14 pm

I’d be nervous if i was Paul Hewitt or among the Yellow jacket faithful, for years to come..and the recruiting war this is gonna take place. I remember on this very site, a lot of u were like who is mark fox? why would we hire him? so many of you were questioning the AD. i go to univ of ga now, but in middle school and freshman yr of h.s lived in reno, before i moved to atlanta/ so i was familiar w/ nevadas basketball program, and how he produced NBA stars in ramon sessions , nick fazekas, and kirk snyder. and took nevada to the tourney countless times and even beat texas one year in the tournament when texas was a top team. I knew it was gonna be a great hire, didnt know theyd be performing this well- so soon. UGA is like4 -6 minutes away from being 4-0 in the SEC. Props! wait til we start getting the top players in GA. there are a lot of players in GA that are ranked in the top 100 in the country, and none of them are staying in state except one to GT. Jordan Mcrae ( ranked 36 in the country) is goin to tennessee, ryan harrow ( ranked 37 in country, attends walton h.s) is goin to nc state, jelan kendrick ( ranked 43, and attends wheeler h.s)…will be attending memphis in the fall, jamail jones ranked #53 will be goin to marquette. ( marquette is a good bball school but really marquette?!), jason james ranked #63 in the country will be goin to them nerds .. in the streets. so once we start getting you know at least one of these players, plus how well he can develop players ( see no one giving Ramon sessions a scholarship and he had no options 2 wks before school and this past off season signed a 16 mill con), and with this coach..the sky is the limit!

t r O G

January 23rd, 2010
10:15 pm

If it was a “sellout” a lot of fans were dressed as empty seats. Shame, from what I saw on TV it would have been a great atmosphere to watch at top ten team go down.

Fan since 1979

January 23rd, 2010
10:16 pm

Saw my first UGA bball game in Dec 1979 vs. Belmont… Eric Marbury (Stephon’s older brother) was at guard… been too many bad seasons with a few nice ones sprinkled in… I am here to tell you, if Fox builds a winner, the fans will come! The Steg will become a great atmosphere… jump on board, there is still plenty of room.

Dawg2012

January 23rd, 2010
10:17 pm

If Fox builds a team that starts to get good players year in and year out, and they consistently made the NCAA tourney and have a chance to compete for the SEC title every year..and gets PAID respectfully for being among the elite..( which i think he can become) then maybe he would stay, so he could say he built this team from scratch. He is in a big and great conference. Not all coaches are the same. Damon Evans will just need to pay the man!

Dawg Foot

January 23rd, 2010
10:18 pm

We need to play more “Street” ball. More flash.

Hey dominobeer

January 23rd, 2010
10:19 pm

you must be new to the area – the UGA fan to Tech fan ration is 10 to 1. If you were in the business of moving newspapers, I would like to think that you would feed the need of the majority. May not be fair but all you have to do is follow the $$$.

Roy

January 23rd, 2010
10:32 pm

I was there! What A “Pearlicious” Victory ! First SEC win for the coach with more to come. Go DAWGS !