‘When [Fox] first got here, we were a team full of problems’
Greetings from Charlotte, where the Georgia Bulldogs and Washington Huskies will continue preparations for Friday night’s NCAA tournament game. The Huskies flew in from Seattle on Tuesday, and the Bulldogs bused up from Athens on Wednesday. Both teams will have late-afternoon/early-evening press conferences and practices on Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Before leaving Athens, the Georgia players and coach Mark Fox met with a much-larger-than-usual media contingent at their Stegeman Coliseum practice facility Wednesday afternoon. Some of the topics that I thought were interesting:
- Washington was not only the first school to hire Fox as a coach, but the first to fire him. After working there as a graduate assistant for one season and as an assistant coach for another, Fox lost his job when the school fired head coach Lynn Nance and the entire staff after the 1992-93 season. I asked Fox how he handled that setback so early in his career. “As a young coach, it’s so hard to get your first job at this level,” he said. “When we got let go, I thought, ‘Hey, I finally got my foot in the door, and now it’s closed. Am I going to get it in there again?’ Fortunately for me, I did get another chance.” He spent the following year as a graduate student at Kansas, where coach Roy Williams allowed him to regularly observe practice, and then landed an assistant’s job at Kansas State, where he remained for six years until that staff also was fired. Then on to Nevada … and Georgia.
- In his second season at Washington, Fox was the No. 3 assistant, a position known at the time as “restricted earnings coach” — a position that was limited by the NCAA to a salary of $12,000. “Before taxes,” Fox noted. (The NCAA later lost a class-action lawsuit over the restricted-earnings issue. Coaches who had been in the position, including Fox, received a settlement.) Fox said he still has a copy of his first paycheck at Washington. “I think I made $8 a month after I paid my rent.”
Trey Thompkins says Dogs "ran off" their problems. (AJC photo/Jason Getz)
- Georgia players are proud of the absence of off-court issues in the past two seasons. Travis Leslie: “In the past, players got arrested and kicked off the team. We have had no issues, really, with the team [in two seasons], and hopefully it can stay that way.” Trey Thompkins: “When [Fox] first got here, we were a team full of problems. We had little things as far as academics and taking care of stuff off the court. Coach Fox came in and helped us fix it.” Thompkins cited the famous, familiar story of Fox making the team run every step in Sanford Stadium in 2009. “That was enough for all of us to wake up,” Thompkins said. “Everybody at that point had had a little mishap, and it just led to so much stuff between 13 guys. He took us to the stadium, and we ran all our problems off.”
- Fox: “They did buy into how we wanted them to function, and I think that’s one of the big reasons they’ve earned their way into the tournament. . . . You can’t be successful consistently on the basketball court if you’re not successful off it. I think there’s a real correlation between guys who can function as students and as good citizens also play[ing] well. I think if you have issues off the floor, all it does is take your time and energy and focus away from playing the right way on the floor. So we did talk a great deal about trying to become issue-free, socially and academically.”
- Fox had a strong reaction when asked how 5-foot-9 Washington guard Isaiah Thomas compares to Nate Robinson, a 5-foot-9 former Huskies guard who is now a six-year NBA veteran: “He’s better than Nate. He’s a better player than Nate. And Nate obviously is good enough to be a pro. But Isaiah Thomas is terrific.”
- Fox on Friday’s late tipoff (9:45 p.m. or so): “Most young people don’t go to bed at the same time that I do, so I’m more worried about me than I am [the players].”
And for five things you should know about the Huskies, please click here.
– Tim Tucker, AJC