For local college hoops teams, it figures to be a chilly winter

Just about everything has changed for these programs in 12 months. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Much has changed for these programs, and others, in 12 months. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mark Fox took the Georgia job on April 2, 2009, which makes him the dean of local men’s college basketball coaches, which tells us much about the fluid state of local college basketball. “We’re still unpacking boxes,” Fox said Wednesday, bemused by his status, at age 42, of Elder Statesman.

Then he said: “This is a tough business right here.”

Fox spoke before the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s annual luncheon at the Marriott Marquis. Around the room, three other coaches, none of whom has yet coached an actual game at their particular school, were doing interviews. All were trying to be optimistic, but occasionally a note of reality intruded.

Said Ron Hunter of Georgia State: “We’re going to be better than expected — I’ll say that.”

And beating expectations, to be frank, wouldn’t take much. The four schools represented at the luncheon were a combined 53-72 last season, and that was with Georgia’s 21-12 mixed in. Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Kennesaw State all fired their coaches. Georgia lost its two best players — Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie — a year early to the NBA draft. (And now the NBA’s not playing. What a waste.)

Even if they’re necessary, transitions are never easy. The three new coaches trying to establish an ethos. For Brian Gregory at Tech, the underpinning will be defense and rebounding. For Lewis Preston at Kennesaw, it will be across-the-board accountability. For Hunter at GSU, it will be a breakneck pace.

Said Hunter: “It’s hard to teach winning. I’m not even trying to teach X’s and O’s; we’re just learning to compete. We compete when we go to the bathroom.”

It’s far too early to know if any of the three new men will succeed. None of these jobs are easy; if they were, they wouldn’t have been vacant in the spring. But word from Tech holds that Gregory — “BG,” as he’s known — has imported a heightened sense of organization and tenacity. Which doesn’t mean he’s going to win right away. The Jackets’ reservoir of talent is at its lowest level this century, and BG’s task is complicated by the necessity, owing to the refurbishing of Alexander Memorial Coliseum, of splitting home games between Philips Arena and Gwinnett.

Georgia graced the NCAA tournament last spring — its season was ended by Washington, against whom Hunter’s Panthers will open Nov. 12 — but is itself retooling. All its big men are gone. The new lineup, bolstered by the arrival of McDonald’s All-American Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, will rise or fall along the perimeter. “We’ll shoot it better,” Fox said, “but we’re so inexperienced. We’ve got two guys [guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware] who’ve started an SEC game.”

Even as Preston noted that Wednesday was “the sixth-month anniversary” of his hiring, he was fretting over his first test as KSU’s coach — Wednesday night’s exhibition against West Georgia — with some justification. Students of history will recall that LaGrange College beat Kennesaw last preseason. Two weeks later, the Owls stunned Georgia Tech. Four months later, both head coaches were fired. As Fox said, it’s a tough business. (FYI, Kennesaw beat West Georgia 70-68.)

If there’s a sliver of sunshine amid what figures to be a gloomy season for the locals, it’s that the three new coaches don’t exactly have tough acts to follow. Tech has had one winning season in its past four; KSU hasn’t had a winning season since 2005-2006, and Georgia State hasn’t had one since 2003-2004. And there’s also this: With the NBA locked out and the NHL gone to Winnipeg, college basketball could be the only game in town this winter.

Someone said to Gregory, “The spotlight’s on you guys.” Smiling, Gregory said, “Can we turn the spotlight down a little?”

The point being: None of the locals looks to be Broadway-ready just yet. Georgia was picked eighth in the 12-team SEC, Tech 10th in the 12-team ACC, Georgia State 11th in the 12-team Colonial, Kennesaw seventh in the 10-team Atlantic Sun.

Let’s make this simple and say: First team to break .500 is the new state champ.

By Mark Bradley

92 comments Add your comment

NC Dawg

November 2nd, 2011
4:40 pm

Brrr…First!

Mark Bradley

November 2nd, 2011
4:43 pm

But it’s a hot week for NC Dawg, I must report. Kudos again.

NC Dawg

November 2nd, 2011
4:45 pm

Thank you very much, sir.

GTPhenom

November 2nd, 2011
4:46 pm

Could be a LOOONNNGGG winter for these Georgia Basketball teams. Which is disappointing, because I really want the Jackets to have success, and feel that Coach BG can really move them along in a few years; but for now the talent is low and he wasn’t left with much to work with. Too bad Shumpert didn’t decide to stay . . .

GTPhenom

November 2nd, 2011
4:47 pm

Also, good article Mark, I do completely agree . . . unfortunately . . .

Ron Burgundy

November 2nd, 2011
4:48 pm

With all the talent coming out of Geogria for bball, it is a shame all of our programs are in such a state of disrepair.

Mark Bradley

November 2nd, 2011
4:50 pm

Thanks, GTPhenom.

Felix

November 2nd, 2011
4:54 pm

Ga. Tech basketball this year will look a lot like Wake Forest basketball last year. But at least Hewitt has finally vacated the premises.

Stockdog

November 2nd, 2011
4:56 pm

No Hawks, and poor college teams this winter. I’m going to get a lot of writing done this winter.

LCHoops

November 2nd, 2011
4:59 pm

Mark,
Thanks for the shoutout to LaGrange College. I am proud to say that I was a member of that team, and was fortunate enough to have started, and score 12 points in that game. As an avid reader of your articles and blog posts, I was estatic when you mentioned my team from last year. While we did not have many bright spots during my four years at LaGrange, beating KSU was definitely a highlight. As a D3 hoopster, and now D3 coach, it makes us proud. Thanks again.

Bryan G.

November 2nd, 2011
5:00 pm

I wonder if Thompkins and Leslie wish they were in Athens now instead of unemployed.

Paul in NH

November 2nd, 2011
5:04 pm

What is likely to be the least talented GT team in a long time is picked 10th in the ACC – meaning there are 2 worse teams! How the mighty have fallen. Syracuse and Pitt can’t join the conference soon enough. And if they go to 16, UConn needs to get an invite.

Mark Bradley

November 2nd, 2011
5:08 pm

Thanks, LCHoops. And belated congratulations on that victory.

Maryland Jacket

November 2nd, 2011
5:21 pm

On the plus side, I work near the Gwinnett Arena, so I’ll be able to take in a few Tech games. On the not-so-plus side, I’m not quite sure where Philips Arena is (I claim being a recent transplant to Georgia)

Boots

November 2nd, 2011
5:23 pm

Fox is laying a solid foundation. I feel good about the Dawgs even if they end up in middle of the SEC. Considering we are 2 years away and we lost our top two players, that will be a big accomplishment.

Hairy Dawg

November 2nd, 2011
5:24 pm

I think Fox will get things figured out. He has talent on his team. The SEC East is really stacked, though. When you have six games against three preseason Top Ten teams, you know you’ve got a tough row to hoe.

perk

November 2nd, 2011
5:31 pm

Mark: when will the predictions come for the locals? Anxious to get your take.

The Nature Boy

November 2nd, 2011
5:42 pm

the dawgs will be really short handed in the front court positions….but if they have some perimeter scorers who knows..??

sandiego dawg

November 2nd, 2011
6:02 pm

I think Jay Rome and Nick Marshall will definitely help the Dawgs- the future looks bright in Athens

OldTimer

November 2nd, 2011
6:26 pm

I think basketball has seen it’s better days.

Heath

November 2nd, 2011
6:27 pm

I wonder how long until KSU is invited into the Big East? My neighbor and I got our invitations this morning!

BH93

November 2nd, 2011
6:43 pm

Mark, is it true there is no East/West split in SEC hoops this year?

Buzzketball

November 2nd, 2011
6:46 pm

What did Hunter mean when he said “We compete when we go to the bathroom” ?? What the heck does that mean? Anyone??

blazerdawg

November 2nd, 2011
7:14 pm

Which program will be the first back to the big dance?

I expect that UGA will be back in 2013.

Georgia State will be a much better team in February. Hunter knows what he is doing. They could win the Colonial Tournament and make it in as conference champ.

Even as a Dawg fan it is sad to see the Jackets bball in the state that it is in. I remember the enthusiasm for Tech bball when Cremins was hired, they joined the ACC, and were playing to sellouts at Alexander and the Omni despite having no basketball rep. Hope BG can rekindle that spirit, but I doubt it.

Reality Dawg

November 2nd, 2011
7:14 pm

Georgia has such deep basketball talent and (UGA and Tech) cannot have decent basketball programs is just pathetic! GO DAWGS!!!

Jay

November 2nd, 2011
7:17 pm

sec basketball lol

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 2nd, 2011
7:18 pm

The Fox Hounds will be interesting to follow given Fox’s left coast connections.

Watkinsville Dawg

November 2nd, 2011
7:33 pm

Dawgs will do just fine Trey was lazy and over rated Travis was a talent but didn’t have a clue. Our guards and wings will make the young bigs better.

Old Tech fan in NC

November 2nd, 2011
7:39 pm

With Duke and UNC getting seemingly their pick of the best every year, the ACC is now just a two team top heavy league…others are playing for third. Not every game, but most. But Roy and K are getting older.

Perhaps BG will bring some top local guys to upgrade Tech sooner than the other guy could.

GTBob

November 2nd, 2011
7:43 pm

I am optimistic that Tech can be better then expected this year. Our talent isn’t that terrible. We still have guys that were highly recruited out of high school like Holsey, Udofia, Morris, and Royal. Hopefully having a new coach will light a fire under these guys. If Glen Rice can play with control and Daniel Miller can keep improving then I think we put a solid team out there. Not great but solid.

Powerless in CT

November 2nd, 2011
7:53 pm

Past talented Tech teams yielded disappointment. I’m looking forward to not being disappointed and seeing what BG can do. He’s got some good recruits coming next year, so if this teams plays respectably, I’ll end up quite optimistic.

btgt69

November 2nd, 2011
7:54 pm

Beat uga and it is a winning season,,, THWg

Truth

November 2nd, 2011
7:56 pm

Bradley, still don’t know why u don’t post that UGA and KY are the only two SEC schools that suspend after FIRST failed drug test while all others (we don’t know Vandy policy since it is private) wait until second and third offense. It is NOT even made public at most other schools.

LakeDawg

November 2nd, 2011
8:01 pm

I like it when teams maximize their potential. Fox is a good coach and will get the best out of his team. That will make it an enjoyable year for me, even though I doubt UGA cracks .500.

Gordon

November 2nd, 2011
8:19 pm

I think Tech will do better than people think (of course, a lot of that is just hope). Maybe we will win 15 games, 6 in the ACC, and make the NIT. All I hope for this year is seeing a more fundamentally sound team and improvement during the year. I’m so glad there is finally hope.

Gordon

November 2nd, 2011
8:23 pm

@BH93,

I read where the SEC standings will not include divisions, like the ACC does, but that the schedule this year will still be like it was in the past since the decision was made so late. I’m not sure how they will schedule next year, but it won’t be divisions. In the ACC, you have 2 permanent opponents where you play home-and-home, and the other 9 are divided into 3 each of home-and-home, home only, and away only.

Jacket Backer

November 2nd, 2011
8:36 pm

Pulling hard for BG……I think in a few years we’ll see very good bball teams return to the Flats. I’m actually buying season tix for bball this year to go along with my football tickets. Haven’t been to a bball game since Cremins left.

Go Jackets!!….. Beat VPI !

Mark Bradley

November 2nd, 2011
8:54 pm

There’s no East-West split in the SEC this year, BH93.

Ron Roberts

November 2nd, 2011
9:25 pm

Augusta State will (again) have the best team in the state, I’d guess.

Michael

November 2nd, 2011
10:02 pm

Owls almost lost it again tonight, although I will say West Georgia has a great player in De’Ron Sims. 70-68 win for KSU.

As for my Dawgs, I’m excited to see Caldwell-Pope play, but this team is way too young in the interior. I will say Georgia should have won 25 games last season…Fox is a good coach who gets the most out of his players. I will be content with a .500 SEC record.

C Murder

November 2nd, 2011
10:11 pm

Why is Georgia so underrated? It wasn’t like Thompkins and Leslie were factors in many games last year. Two absolute NBA busts.

IL Jacket

November 2nd, 2011
10:15 pm

Old Tech fan in NC, your comment about the topheaviness of the ACC resonates with something that I have thought for some time. It almost appears that nature abhors parity. If one looks at BIG Ten football with Michigan-Ohio State, the current situation in the SEC football with Alabama and LSU separating themselves from the pack or even something like the English Premier League with Man. Utd.-Arsenal, you have multi-team leagues where the other opponents are all well funded, yet two teams always seem to separate themselves. The modern NFL almost appears to be the only league where because of the talent restocking rules that long termed dynasties do not exist, but even there I can see how someone could argue for the Steelers as such a team. As the farmers were fond of saying, the cream rises to the top.

yellow britches

November 2nd, 2011
10:29 pm

It is always dangerous to extrapolate from one’s own experience but I think college hoops is in trouble. The season is squeezed by college football and the NFL. Who really pays attention to hoops until February. March Madness matters but the conference championships, even the venerable ACC tournament doesn’t draw like it used to. This is a case of the “Tournament that ate college basketball” I guess money killed one of the more interesting college games locally. When Tech and Georgia played each other at the Omni, the place rocked. I think Vince Dooley decided to bring the game and the money to Athens every other year. He killed it but I guess the check cleared the bank.

ToccoaDawg

November 2nd, 2011
10:40 pm

Don’t count out Coach Fox and Georgia just yet even if they are younger than pre-schoolers at a high school game.

Jim R

November 2nd, 2011
10:52 pm

Yellow Britches-I agree with your comment about the action between UGA and Tech at the Omni. The best game between the two teams back then (I am sure you and all fans will remember) was that three-overtime wild finish back during December 1990 when both teams went back and forth with Tech finally prevailing in the third overtime, led by the likes of Kenny Anderson.

Paul in NH

November 2nd, 2011
11:02 pm

@IL Jacket
The EPL a 2 team league with Man U and Arsenal??? You need to keep up to date – Man U was hammered 6-1 at home by Man City the weekend before last and Arsenal haven’t really dominated since Thierry Henry left. The EPL generally has the same 5 – 6 teams at the top (Man U, Man C, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal + an interloper – one from Villa, Newcastle, Tottenham and Everton). There are huge differences in funding between the top teams in the EPL and the rest.
Now, if you really want a 2 team league, you need to follow La Liga – it’s Real and Barca every year.

IL Jacket

November 2nd, 2011
11:11 pm

Paul in NH, I appreciate your point and the worst defeat in Ferguson’s career is notable, but I was looking at the longer arc of history and the fact that those teams may not lead the standings today does not invalidate my point. Perhaps my EPL reference is not as strong, but I guess I thought it goes beyond American sports. Thanks for pointing out Real-Barcelona.

Greg Norton

November 2nd, 2011
11:19 pm

Don’t sleep on Gregory’s team..slow start to be expected, but it’s a long season….I;m still available if Wren wants to talk!

Hoops Dawg

November 2nd, 2011
11:27 pm

C Murder, the dawgs are rated down because they lost not only Thomkins and Leslie but two other very experienced big men:Price and Barnes. All that bulk (and experience) is impossible to replace with Freshman and one soph with very litle experience. We have to get a big year out of Marcus Thornton and at least one of the new bigs to reach .500 in he SEC I fear.

IL Jacket

November 2nd, 2011
11:38 pm

Besides UK and Vandy who are the other teams in the SEC to watch this year?