A year ago, Mark Fox's Georgia basketball team just wanted to prove its naysayers wrong. This season, the Bulldogs want to prove them right.
"This time a year ago nobody expected us to be good," Fox said during a Tuesday press conference at Stegeman Coliseum. "This year, everybody expects us to be good, although the bottom line is we as players and coaches usually expect more of ourselves than anybody else."
But this year, the Bulldogs have company.
Although most preseason polls have yet to be released, many would not be surprised to see the Bulldogs occupy a spot in the Top 25, considering Georgia returns four starters from last year's 14-17 squad, including a couple of potential NBA lottery picks in Trey Thompkins (17.7 points) and Travis Leslie (14.8).
Thompkins said the players aren't letting the hype go to their heads.
"We've done a pretty good job. We still have a level head. Coach Fox is doing a great job of keeping us level-headed and not letting us get into the hype," he said. "He reminds us every day that we haven't done anything yet. We understand that, but we're also ready to hit the ground running."
Georgia begins its preparation for the 2010-2011 campaign with the first day of practice Friday afternoon.
The Bulldogs face Augusta State in an exhibition game Nov. 4 before opening the regular season against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 12 followed by a home game against Colorado on Nov. 16.
Fox said the mindset of this year's squad is night and day different from this time a season ago.
"It really is different. I really think this team has a lot of confidence and faith in themselves and each other," Fox said. "We weren't functioning like winning people a season ago but now if you look in that lockerroom you see guys that have confidence, that believe in each other and function like winning people, so it's quite a bit different. The kids should get credit for maturing in that way."
Although it's early, Fox likes the makeup of his team.
Besides Thompkins and Leslie, the Bulldogs return two other starters, including junior guard Dustin Ware (8.2 ppg) and senior forward Jeremy Price (7.2 ppg).
The Bulldogs lost six players due to graduation or transfer, but Fox feels his five newcomers - Gerald Robinson, Connor Nolte, Sherrard Brantley , Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams - along with returnees Chris Barnes and Vincent Williams give Georgia a strong nucleus for the upcoming campaign.
"We know how much work we've put in, how much we've invested and how much we trust in our coaches," Thompkins said. "Coach Fox is a great coach and he is someone who gets everything out of you; he's got everything out of us so we definitely have pride in what we've got coming our way as far as media and things like that."
But Thompkins adds that Fox has a way of keeping the team humble.
"He tells us what's up but he also reminds us we haven't been to the tournament. He says we've got a chance to be a great team but it's only a chance if we don't capitalize on it. We have to take the initiative because he can't play for us," Thompkins said. "We listen to the things we hear but we keep them to ourselves and we keep working hard. We're using them as positives to keep us on the right path, and right now we're on a pretty good path."
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