Talent evaluation key to Mark Fox’s future success at Georgia

Georgia could have had this guy, Tanner Smith, who started all 32 games for Clemson this season. Instead the Bulldogs chose Drazen Zlovaric, who left this week having never started a game with a 1.1 career scoring average. (AP photo)

Georgia could have had this guy, Tanner Smith, who started all 32 games for Clemson this season. Instead the Bulldogs chose Drazen Zlovaric, who left this week having never started a game with a 1.1 career scoring average. (AP photo)

Almost lost amid all the talk of coach Paul Hewitt’s adventures at Georgia Tech is the latest round of player departures over at Georgia.

In case you missed it, guard Demario Mayfield and forward Drazen Zlovaric requested and on Thursday were granted releases from their UGA scholarships so that they may seek transfers to other schools. How much of a choice they had in the decision is a matter of debate.

And be warned: The exodus may not be over. It is very likely that sophomore forward Trey Thompkins will enter his name in the NBA draft in the coming days (that doesn’t mean he’ll leave, just they he has until May 8 to decide whether to retain his college eligibility or go pro).

My immediate thought is, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

My previous responsibilities here at the AJC required me to cover Bulldogs basketball and the latest departures were for me a familiar refrain. In fact, if my recollection is correct, that makes 11 players that have left the program in the last four years without completing their eligibility, seven of those of under “voluntary” circumstances.

Takais Brown, Billy Humphrey and Mike Mercer, all top-notch players, were dismissed due to discipline issues. But Channing Toney, Reshad Singleton, Younnes Idrissi, Jeremy Jacob, Troy Brewer, Zac Swansey and now these latest two players all left because they were either disgruntled, disillusioned or because they simply hadn’t produced at the level that was expected when they were recruited.

It is on the latter count — talent evaluation — that current coach Mark Fox can distinguish himself.

Fox and his staff have received a lot of praise for the job they did this past season, and deservedly so. The Bulldogs (14-17, 5-11 SEC) won two more conference games and two more games overall than they did in coach Dennis Felton’s last season. They were clearly a well-coached team and competitive in virtually every game they played.

Then again, Georgia finished in the same position it did the previous year — last place in the SEC East.

If the Bulldogs are to prove themselves upwardly mobile in the conference under Fox, it’s going to be through recruiting and, more specifically, talent evaluation.

In seeing Zlovaric leave the program, I was taken back to the recruiting season that brought him to Athens. The Bulldogs chose the rangy 6-foot-8 small forward  from Serbia (by way of the Patterson School in North Carolina and two other American high schools) over another player that desperately wanted to play wing at UGA. Instead Tanner Smith, Thompkins’ teammate at The Wesleyan School in Norcross, ended up at Clemson.

Smith was a 32-game starter who averaged 8.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Tigers this past season and has played in all 64 games of his career. Zlovaric leaves having never started a game with a career average of 1.1 points.

We don’t know much yet about Fox the recruiter and evaluator of talent. So far he has landed 6-foot-8 forward Cady Lalanne of Orlando in the early signing period. He has been piling up the frequent flyer miles chasing down blue-chip forward Dwayne Polee in Los Angeles and cruising junior college talent in the Midwest. Of course, he and his staff are all over Atlanta as well, including Miller Grove’s Donte Williams, who’s due in Athens this weekend.

Suddenly the Bulldogs have room to bring in as many as four players in the late signing period, which begins April 14. The late period, by the way, is not when you want to be doing the bulk of your recruiting.

In any case, Georgia fans can only hope Fox has a better eye for talent.

71 comments Add your comment

wolfman

March 26th, 2010
9:23 am

First, suckas

PMC

March 26th, 2010
9:24 am

His record for evaluating talent at Nevada was pretty good and we already know he’s a VASTLY better basketball coach than Dennis Felton. Give him some time and he will build a competant program at Georgia.

innocent bystander

March 26th, 2010
9:25 am

Chip,
Take me to school please. Why is the spring not an opportune time?

wheels

March 26th, 2010
9:26 am

Could his eye for talent really be any worse than Felton’s? I think UGA is on the up-and-up.

Don

March 26th, 2010
9:28 am

When was the last time we had a full roster or a near complete roster, 2002? This can not continue.

JB

March 26th, 2010
9:40 am

His first class or two will a notch or two above Felton’s….but his third and fourth will land a big name or two based on positive improvement and attention to the program. I was stunned at the difference between this year and last.

Paul in RDU

March 26th, 2010
9:41 am

innocent bystander – The reason the spring is not an opportune time for recruiting is that the majority of the top HS SRs in b’ball sign with a school in the early signing period before their senior year.
I am sure that Fox is recruiting HS JRs as well, but they aren’t going to help him until the 2011-2012 season.

Wow, Chip......

March 26th, 2010
9:52 am

…for a UGA grad you sure write a lot of negative stuff about the school. And you left out Younis Idrissi as another of Felton’s signees who left of their own accord.

And, to take the ones who left and ask where they are now – none ever made much of a splash wherever they landed (ok, Channing did OK at UAB, though nothing to write home about), so, obviously, it was no big loss
that any of them left.

I bet you have really had a hard time finding things to bash about UGA athletics since the police blotter has been somewhat quiet over the last couple of years in Athens….

Chip Towers

March 26th, 2010
9:52 am

innocent bystander: Paul in RDU pretty much nailed it. In general, the best basketball talent is identified early and signed in the fall period (mid-November). That’s when Jelan Kendrick, the state’s top prospect, inked with Memphis. . . . .

wheels: Let’s give Dennis Felton some credit. He did bring Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to Athens, and in less than ideal recruiting circumstances.

SimpleDawg

March 26th, 2010
10:02 am

In response to the defense of Felton and his signning of Thompkins and Leslie…..even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

Ol’ Foxey seems to be a pretty smart cookie…..I have a feeling that he will be able to separate “the wheat from the chaff”.

The Foxhounds will be in the hunt…..and soon.

brucemac

March 26th, 2010
10:04 am

I am sure the fans and alumni of Butler, Northen Iowa, St Mary’s and Cornell are glad there coaching staff doesn’t subscribe to your theory. There is plenty of talent to be mined outside of the early identified high school All Americans who leave early anyway. The mid majors are proving you more wrong every year Chip.

UGAGIT

March 26th, 2010
10:15 am

What no one has mentioned is that it is common for players to leave, or be forced out, when a new coach comes in. Look what Calipari did at Kentucky. It’s not fair to the players, who have to scramble to try to get a scholarship somewhere else, but little in the current system is, i.e., a coach can leave a program with serious NCAA violations and not be held accountable, but the players have victories voided, scholarships limited, and postseason play prohibited.

That said, watching the Dawgs under Fox was like a breath of fresh air. They actually looked like they had been coached. If Fox can recruit like he can coach, Georgia will only get better.

Bamafan

March 26th, 2010
10:17 am

If Coach Fox can some how keep the great talent in state and sign with the dawgs than Georgia would give Kentucky and UT trouble!!

Fishfry

March 26th, 2010
10:22 am

Chip, you really went to Georgia? Couldn’t tell by your always less than poitive post about anything Bulldog. If you are a closet Tech fan, then admit it and get on with life, over at the flats!

John

March 26th, 2010
10:25 am

Zlovaric is in my Econ class, this dude is lazy. He sleeps on the floor in the back of the auditorium. Glad to see him go, atleast we can bring in “SEC” talent. He should be playing at New York Central Centennial Academy of New Jersey for Boys, instead of a SEC school. We need Trey to stay, b/c without him it’s not going to get better next season.

Kris

March 26th, 2010
10:35 am

This is a non issue with Fox until one of his players that he recruited leaves. Just to bring this up now is beating a dead horse that was the Felton regime. Those players leaving was to be expected. This program has to hope that Thompkins and Lesley are back next year or the rebuilding won’t start until next season.

Jim n Buckhead

March 26th, 2010
10:36 am

This is always an issue with Bulldog hoops….numbers….they cant get enough players to fill a roster

Ted

March 26th, 2010
10:46 am

Chip is right. The spring period is not a time when you want to be trying to stock up on kids. I’d say 90%+ of those who can make it in school and are high major worthy, sign in the fall. Therefore, you are chasing just a few players with a vast number of schools. A lot of mistakes are made in April when teams feel compeled to meet some immediate need.

On another note, Chip is fair to UGA. Do you all expect that because he’s UGA grad he’s going to act like he’s with UGA sports info?

NewnanDawg

March 26th, 2010
10:49 am

This article reads very strangely. It almost sounds like Chip is blaming Fox for the departures under Felton. I fully expected that a couple of players would be leaving; it’s in the best interest of the program and the kids if they want to play more. It’s never a pretty situation when it happens, but sometimes difficult decisions have to be made. Let’s not assume that this will be an ongoing thing, like under Felton. Felton didn’t seem to know how to manage his players and discipline; he just gave up and kicked them out. It is obvious from the stadium steps episode early this season that Fox knows how to get his players in line without letting it get to the drastic stage of kicking them off the team. Oh, and I also will not give Felton credit for recruiting Travis, since he was obviously incapable of coaching him. He was a completely different player under Fox.

Last point – Has Chip actually spoken to Trey about his intentions? Because I have not heard any indication that he intends to enter the draft.

Go Dawgs!

NewnanDawg

March 26th, 2010
10:57 am

Kris – Travis has already said he is staying.

Go Dawgs!

Flo-Ri-Duh!

March 26th, 2010
10:59 am

Thomkins isn’t turning pro this year even if Chip Towers (closet Jacket) wants him too…. the departures weren’t recruited by Fox. Even if Tower is hoping for the worst Fox will still be a big success for a long time at UGA… Don’t expect it to happen in one year but 3 years from now UGA will be in the NCAA final 16.

toph

March 26th, 2010
11:10 am

Does this mean that UGA will bring in a stud recruiting class? Maybe these guys knew they were coming in? Just a thought.

NWF

March 26th, 2010
11:19 am

Chip-

Heard anything about a JUCO sharp-shooter named Sherrard Brantley?

Gator Tater

March 26th, 2010
11:20 am

Chip you are so biased, Oh wait a minute, what you wrote are the facts,
We’ll you should write biased lies to make the dogs look good and keep the delusion alive!

AGTFan

March 26th, 2010
11:26 am

I find myself, a life long GT fan pulling for a UGA coach to succeed. I like the coach. He gets the best out of the players he has. Be patient. I think there are high school coaches all over the country who remember the mess left by Harrick. Even if it’s not concious, they’re telling players, maybe you want to think twice about going to UGA. I think Fox is the man that can turn this around. Be patient, support your basketball Dawgs 100% and watch something good grow.

NewnanDawg

March 26th, 2010
11:28 am

Funny big/little, Fox sure seemed to relate to Travis, Trey, Dustin, Ebuka, Chris, Albert, on and on just fine. And he also related to the fan base pretty well – 4 sell outs in a rebuilding year after the last sell out was 3 years ago.

Go Dawgs!

NewnanDawg

March 26th, 2010
11:31 am

GTfan- nice comments from someone who seems to “get it” about bball. What are your thoughts on the whole Hewitt staying situation?

collegeballfan

March 26th, 2010
11:32 am

For Fox and UGA basketball to each the upper levels of the SEC the fans must puts their butts in the seats. High school size crowds will not bring in the Jelan Kendricks of the world.

Jelan Kendrick will not play at a school where basketball does not matter. At UGA basketball does not matter.

Fox has proven he is a superior coach, he needs the help of UGA grads.

AceDawg

March 26th, 2010
11:44 am

I do agree UGA will not get over any hump if the recruiting doesn’t pour in. Fox can hopefully get a few players that can earn quality minutes this year. If Gerald Robinson is a fast driver and solid scorer at guard, then UGA should be better next year, hopefully at least a .500 league record. But after this one year of perhaps only ok recruiting, UGA will have to reel in some big time players for the 2011 season if Fox and UGA are going to stay together. I hope they do because I like what I saw this year.

UGA basketball (only) blog

March 26th, 2010
11:46 am

J dog

March 26th, 2010
11:56 am

Gator Tater, loosing intrest in your Gators? You should focus your energy on why the Gators appear to be in decline. Florida used to be the class of the SEC along with Kentucky, but Kentucky and Tennessee are clearly the better teams now. Whats happening to the Gators?

brucemac

March 26th, 2010
11:58 am

Thanks Big2, we will do the best we can with our white boy cracker coach. How did he do versus your Great ACC team this year with three High School All Americans the overpaid coach?

bitter "old school uga fan"

March 26th, 2010
11:58 am

speaking of hard times and recruiting, ga football lost the #1 kid in the state and time will tell if that may be a blissing, by the way we stole tenn #1 recruit 2 years back and low and behold that proved that one needs not to travel north to find football players, i.e. merlin the (wizard) brown. give fox time to weed out the trash and bring in his players but for the life of me why do uga football and basketball teams evan look outside of georgia, big fergin mistake!!

t

March 26th, 2010
12:13 pm

NOTHING COULD BE WORSE THAN THE TRAIN WRECK THAT WAS THE FELTON REGIME! WHAT THE HECK WAS HE DOING FOR THOSE 6 1/2 YEARS ANYWAY?

Chip Towers

March 26th, 2010
12:19 pm

NWF: I am aware of that Georgia is recruiting Sherrard Brantley, a shooting guard from a school that shares the same acronym as the one you use as a handle (coincidence? I think not). LSU and Creighton are also after Brantley. I think he’s supposed to visit UGA. We’ll see.

AGTFan

March 26th, 2010
12:40 pm

NewnanDawg- I’m only talking about Gt on a UGA blog because I was asked a specific question.

I think real Tech Fans need to accept that he’s staying, quit rehashing all the same under-achievement arguments, that while valid aren’t going to help the program. I’d like to see him add a top-notch offensive assistant and stop making excuses or arguing with the media and fan base. He needs to accept that taking the heat is part of the job.

And t- you only have to look a little further back to see what was worse than Felton. For all his failings Felton did a great deal to return integrity to UGA basketball. No coach was going to succeed at UGA until the Harrick stench was removed.

Matt

March 26th, 2010
12:47 pm

Kind of pointless article. Of course the coach has to be able to evaluate talent or he’d be fired. This guy is good and was able to build solid squads at Nevada so why would he not be able tyo do that here? UGA is the one that needs to step up and start getting their student body at games. More fans equals more recruits. Who wants to play in front of no one when you can go elsewhere with a rabid fan base where the crowd plays a factor in the game for energy purposes?

NewnanDawg

March 26th, 2010
1:13 pm

GTfan – sorry I potentially set you up to be bashed for the topic, didn’t think about that. Luckily, more of the mindless insulters that would do the bashing stick with the football topics. That said, interesting take on the situation. To link it to UGA, if thinking in pure terms of what it does for/against UGA’s program, it’s a love it/hate it thing. Hewitt is a fantastic recruiter which means his staying will make it tougher on Fox to build the program, but I believe Fox will outcoach him on the court 9 times out of 10, meaning a pre SEC win most of the time which will help with future attendance. Only time will tell.

Go Dawgs!

nola uga fan

March 26th, 2010
2:19 pm

Chip –
who is the juco player who had to sit out this year? word I have heard from folks close to the program, he was by far the second best player on the court during practice (behind Trey). Sounds a lot like with Jarvis/Jonas had to sit out… i think if Trey stays, with this JUCO and a few good recruits to round out the squad, a NCAA bid is in reach

RomeDawg

March 26th, 2010
2:32 pm

It could be worse, Hewitt could be our head coach!

Silver Creek Dawg

March 26th, 2010
2:34 pm

Nola,

You are referring to Greald Robinson, Jr., a transfer from Tennessee State. He will be a huge add for UGA next season.

Everything I have heard about him is he tore up practice running the backups. He is a scoring PG, something UGA badly needs (both to handle the ball and to be another offensive option).

phoenix falcon

March 26th, 2010
2:42 pm

chip, how do i get a job like yours? i mean watching sports for a living is a whole lot better then working for 600 lawyers…………. just curious.

Chip Towers

March 26th, 2010
2:50 pm

Nola uga fan: You’re thinking of point guard Gerald Robinson of Nashville, Tenn., and he’s not a junior college transfer. He transferred from Tennessee State and had to sit out last season per NCAA rules. The 6-foot-1 scorer averaged 17.8 points his sophomore season and will have two years of eligibility remaining.

harold

March 26th, 2010
2:51 pm

GEORGIA BASKETBALL IS A JOKE! A GREAT PLAYER GOES TO TENNESSEE OR KENTUCKY! GEORGIA? COME ON!

BB blue chip recruiting is a huge issue for UGA

March 26th, 2010
3:09 pm

I am not a real huge fan of BB. I rarely spend two minutes per year watching NBA games. I viewed UGA this past season more than I have in several years. Expectations and curiosity drove that.

I graduated UGA in 71 and I know that we have never, ever been able to assemble on any consistent basis the real talent. One year, John Guthrie did recruit about 3 – 5 really BIG TIME LOCAL ball players in Tony Flanagan and about 4 others and nada, zilch resulted and he was canned and he went and sold college class rings. JG was/is now a huge failure in UGA BB lore.

Durham came in later and had a brief flourish with Dominic Wilkins and Terry Tair and Vern Fleming and one of those man Marbury bothers from Brookly. If Eric was on his three pointer shot, he was deadly. Problem was that rarely was he on and so it has gone for UGA, except for Durham’s 1978? Final Four. Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, that was 400 years ago.

We followed Durham with one or two sad clowns and then Harrick and all of that trash. Adams STILL SHOULD STEP DOWN for on Jim Harreck. That guy and his son were trash. Adams’ fault.

We followed that up with Dennis Felton, and I was convinced on his hiring that he would put UGA on the NCAA BB map with conistent 18-12 and 20-10 and 19-11 teams. Gee, that is all UGA fans seek. Just go to the The Dance every two or three years or so. We expect no NCs. None. Just be fricking competitive and fun to watch …………like this year but with a better record….18-12??

Now? I wish CMF well but history and NO TRADITION are hard to break. This will be along, long climb for him and I hope that HE is prepared.

Go Dogs.

NWF

March 26th, 2010
3:31 pm

Chip-

Brantley has visits scheduled to all three. And the handle is not a coincidence. I “work” down here now. Maybe next time I’m in ATL I can meet you and a certain bearded writer at a certain watering hole…

NewnanDawg

March 26th, 2010
3:37 pm

BB Blue Chip – I think Fox can accomplish things a little faster than you do for a few reasons. First, there are a lot more media avenues available to him now than used to be available to “market” the program (and Fox knows how to use them). He has already gotten national attention numerous times this season through Travis’ top ten plays, Connor Nolte’s blog, Fox’s twitter account, etc. The Charles Barkley appearance at the UK game in Athens and he and Calipari’s compliments after didn’t hurt either. Second, the major facelift to the Steg that is going to be done before next season combined with the recent addition of the $30M practice facility, will make the commitment to the bball program show. Finally, when you can also sell playing time to a recruit as we don’t have quality depth right now, you put all of this together and it’s not a bad package to sell in recruiting.

Go Dawgs!

4 ncs are better than 1

March 26th, 2010
3:41 pm

sell this: LAST PLACE!!!!!!!!

Pope UGA XXIII

March 26th, 2010
6:18 pm

Saw quite a few games this year, and Drazen usually resembled a
runaway goose every time he got in the game. Can’t really figure out
why Mayfield didn’t fare any better this year, but there’s no way I’m
going to criticize Mark Fox decisions. I’m sure there was a solid reason
for his not having more “pt” than he did and my guess is lack of work
ethic in practice, and maybe in the classroom.
For reference, I was at the Stegosaurus when it opened in 1964, and
I have had the “pleasure” of watching many years of sub-standard UGA
roundball during the past 46 years – the good with Tubby & Durham,
the bad with “Red”, and Dennis Felton, and the ugly with Jim Harrick
and brilliant son. I have no illusions of UGA becoming the most feared
team in the NCAA, but it’s a good feeling to defeat Tech, Tennessee,
Vanderbilt, Florida, Illinois, and play Kentucky to the wire in Lexington
all in the same year.
We will be dangerous within 5 years and a in a facility that can be an
absolute hell-hole when it gets loud. Keep up the good work, coach Fox,
and don’t worry about any of what Chip Towers has to say. Articles like
this serve no purpose whatsoever other than resurrect the names of
bygone players, most of whom were not D-1 players in the first place.

Why?

March 26th, 2010
6:47 pm

Agree with most that it is a pointless article. Also agree that it is a negative article towards UGA. The comments such as “How much of a choice they had in the decision is a matter of debate” are not very subtle and suggest these players were run off. I do not believe it for a minute. I think they realized they were not going to get significant playing time and hope to elsewhere. I admire their spirit and wish them luck.

Their statements were classy and expressed good feelings for UGA. Now if you have evidence to the contrary or evidence they were run off, we need to hear it or please stop with the inferences.

Also reemphasize the fact that Felton’s players leaving has nothing to do with Coach Fox. But I do not think he ran them off and do not want athletes he may be recruiting reading such stuff unless someone can back it up!