Got a few minutes with Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox on an SEC teleconference call yesterday. The Bulldogs’ fourth-year coach, coming off a 15-17 season in which they failed earn a postseason tournament bid, sounded upbeat and confident about the prospects for the coming season.
“This is a team I’m looking forward to coaching,” said Fox, who is 50-46 (19-29 SEC) since coming to UGA from Nevada. “Unlike last year where we had lost so much productivity, this year I think we go in returning a great deal of the previous team and I think we’ll have a group that will certainly be more experienced. As they mature physically and get a little older and work in the weight room, they will also be more physical, which was certainly an issue for us a year ago. We’re excited about the upcoming year and how hard these guys are working.”
Fox said that all four of the Bulldogs’ incoming freshmen — guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann and forwards Houston Kessler and Brandon Morris — are enrolled in school this summer and working out with the team. Georgia is able to take advantage this year of new NCAA legislation that allows coaches to work with players in groups during the offseason. Previously they had only limited access to players individually.
“I think the new rule is terrific,” Fox said. “It has allowed us to immediately address things in their individual games we think need to be adjusted or improved or enhanced. And so we’ve taken full advantage of trying to spend some time with them in the gym and working with them.”
Georgia lost its starting backcourt from last season with the graduation of seniors Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware. For that reason there is a lot of excitement and nervous anticipation about the development of Gaines and Mann, both highly-touted prospects. But Fox said people shouldn’t discount the abilities of lettermen Vincent Williams and Sherrard Brantley, each of whom has extensive playing experience. And he also hopes that sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who made freshman All-SEC playing the 3-spot this past season, will be able to play more at the 2-spot this season.
“Vincent Williams started a third of our games at the point and he’s going to make that position with Charles very competitive,” Fox said. “I envision Kentavious being able to play quite a bit at the 2-spot, his natural position, this year, which will make that position very competitive with he and Kenny and Sherrard. So I think the thing we have is competition at those spots.”
That said, Mann (6-foot-6) and Gaines (6-3) bring a different element of size and athleticism to the guard positions.
“It will certainly look different, but they’ve got to earn those spots,” Fox said. “. . . Those guys are bigger and more athletic than we’ve seen since I came to Athens. That’s one of the things we wanted to be is bigger and more athletic. I think Kenny and Charles will provide a future of long athletic guards. And they’ve gotten off to a good starts and are working hard. But they’re still going to be freshmen and, as you know, they’re still going to have some growing pains. But I think they’re both terrific kids and will be very good players for us.”
With so many new players in the fold, Fox is particular thankful for a preseason trip to Italy in August that will allow the Bulldogs to have 10 extra practices before departing and playing teams overseas.
“The summer is one for us that, if we use it right, can be very productive for us,” Fox said. “To this point, I think the month of June has been just that, extremely productive, and we’ve gotten a lot of things done. I think the trip to Italy will allow this team hopefully let the new guys get an idea of how we’re trying to play and hopefully make them more comfortable when the year starts next year.”