What’s little ol’ Georgia and its work-in-progress basketball team doing up in big ol’ New York to face storied Indiana and its No. 1-ranked Hoosiers?
Well, exactly what coach Mark Fox wants.
Certainly it’s not ideal that the Bulldogs (1-2) are heading into the bright lights of the Progressive Legends Classic tournament with one of their younger and less experienced groups in a while. But since taking over Georgia’s basketball team, it has been Fox’s philosophy to get his program on the biggest stages possible as often as possible.
“When I came to Georgia, I felt like we needed to get in as many national events as we could and get on television as much as we could because I just thought we needed to establish a presence,” said Fox, who came to UGA from Nevada in 2009. “That was the reason for wanting to be in the event. And we’re very excited because it is a first-class event and a first-class facility with great teams in an unbelievable city.”
In what is billing as “the championship rounds” of the Legends Classic, Georgia will Indiana (3-0) in Brooklyn’s sparkling new Barclays Center, $1 billion sports and entertainment facility that opened in September. The Bulldogs tip at 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU), followed by UCLA and Georgetown at 8 p.m. (ESPN2). The winners and losers will play Tuesday night.
Georgia appears to be the baby brother on that bill. But Fox’s deep and extensive basketball roots got the Bulldogs involved early with the Gazelle Group, the organization that has put this prestigious event the last six years.
“Obviously Mark has a tremendous track record,” said Ray Cella, director of media relations for the Gazelle Group. “Georgia was involved with us last year in the (Progressive) CBE (Classic) out in Kansas City. So we’ve had a good relationship with Mark and the University of Georgia. Mark’s doing a great job down there. He’s got a great young class and we have absolutely no doubt they’re going to be very representative in this tournament. We’re happy Georgia is with us.”
Georgia has already played two games in the four-game, 12-team event, and it didn’t go as planned. The Bulldogs (1-2) lost to Youngstown State (68-56) and Southern Miss (62-60 OT) in the first two rounds in Athens. Those were games that were essentially scheduled as warmups to the main event.
“I don’t think our group has established great confidence yet just because they’re learning how to win and how to play,” said Fox, whose roster includes nine freshmen and sophomores. “I think the challenge for us is to believe in ourselves. We may not have that swagger yet that a confident team has, but I think the challenge for us is to continue to look at ourselves and look at the errors that have costs us games.”
Essentially that means improving on everything. The Bulldogs missed 10 free throws in the overtime loss to Southern Miss on Thursday but also have been deficient on shooting, interior scoring, rebounding and defense.
By contrast, the Hoosiers have averaged 94 points and 53 percent shooting in three lopsided wins. They’re led by 7-foot, 240-pound center Cody Zeller (20.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg) and a dynamic freshman point guard named Yogi Ferrell (7 ppg, 5 apg).
“When you play a team like IU, you obviously have a lot of things to deal with,” Fox said. “You’re going to have to play very well at both ends to have a chance to win. For us it’s about looking at ourselves first and making sure that we’re playing as efficiently and effectively in the areas we can control before we focus on how to play against the Hoosiers.”
Meanwhile, Indiana isn’t taking for granted a win over Georgia, which has never beaten a No. 1-ranked team in 14 tries.
“You never look at somebody based on what their results are,” said Indiana assistant coach Tim Buckley. “I’d say that (Georgia is) a very talented basketball team. At the same time, they’re having to play some younger guys and trying to find their way a little and they’re learning their chemistry. I think they’ve struggled a little bit offensively, but only because the ball hasn’t gone into the basket. I think they run really good stuff. . . . Those balls haven’t gone in for them but you know that they’re going to and you’re gonna have to be on top of your game to beat Georgia.”
Georgia will get a close look in New York at a couple of players local products playing for UCLA. Jordan Adams, a 6-5 guard from Lawrenceville, is the first Bruins’ freshman in history to score at least 20 points in his first three games and leads the team with a 24-point average. Adams played at Central Gwinnett before spending two seasons at Oak Hill Academy. And freshman forward Tony Parker out of Atlanta’s Miller Grove High, was heavily recruited by the Bulldogs. He is averaging 12.5 minutes a game and 6.7 points so far.
“He’s a kid that has a lot of upside,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “He’s just going to keep getting better and better. He’s been working hard. He’s doing a good job with his body. He had 12 points and 5 rebounds (last game). He’s a great kid. We think he’s going to be a really good player.”