October 15, 2010

Expectations for hoops squad

It seems like every time the Mark Fox is asked a question about his Georgia basketball team, one word keeps getting mentioned above all the rest - expectations.

For a change, the Bulldogs have plenty of them.

That's quite a shift from Fox's first year with the program, when many figured his Bulldogs would be fortunate to win 10 games.

For the record, Georgia finished 14-17, including a number of signature victories before falling in the second round of the SEC Tournament.

This year, the pressure is on.

When Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie both eschewed the NBA draft to return for their junior years that, coupled with a strong class of incoming freshmen, many are predicting Georgia to make significant strides this upcoming campaign.

As for Fox, his expectations are no different than they've ever been for any team he's ever coached.

"I expect these guys to go to school, act right, play extremely hard and play for Georgia. I tell them to play for the name on the front of their shirt, not the name on their back," said Fox, who's Bulldogs held their first official day of preseason practice Friday. "If they will do that, play the game the right way then usually good things will happen. This team is starting anew, there's a lot they still need to improve on and we have to have the right approach."

So far, Fox likes what's seen.

This time last year, Georgia's basketball program was in disarray following the dismissal of former coach Dennis Felton.

Enter Fox, whose ability to convince the players that they could be successful played a large role in the team's relative success.

"I think in athletics, the first thing you learn how to do is to work hard and work appropriately. That level of effort is different in this league as opposed to other leagues and in high school. Kids have to learn that first and then they have to learn how to win and part of learning how to win, you have to have some losses and learn why maybe you lost a game or two," Fox said. "That's important and I think last year we learned some lessons and figured out how to win but the next step is for us to win consistently and that's another step beyond what we've done so far. But this group hasn't been afraid to look in the mirror and address some things that they needed to address, and I think that's why they are improving."

It's also a team with better depth. At least Fox hopes that's the case.

Last year, guards Dustin Ware and Ricky McPhee both averaged over 35 minutes per game.

McPhee has since graduated, but thanks to the addition of transfer Gerald Robinson, sophomore Vincent Williams and true freshman Sherrard Brantley, Fox feels he'll be able to keep his guards a lot fresher than they were a season ago.

"Last year we were so handcuffed with our lack of depth in the backcourt and really didn't have a lot flexibility to do very many things," Fox said. "But I think this year with Gerald, Dustin, Vincent and Sherrard and even Travis Leslie some that we can play a lot different ways in the backcourt and that's going to be needed, because our two little guards played a mountain of minutes and wore down. This year that should not be the case."

Of course, having Leslie and Thompkins back is a huge boost as well.

Thompkins earned unanimous All-SEC honors a season ago after averaging 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds while Leslie developed into one of the league's more exciting players and thanks to an improved jump shot averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 boards per contest.

"Travis has improved a great deal in the past year. Obviously last year he had a breakout season and he kind of bought into our philosophy so he improved, and he worked hard. You have to give the guy credit," Fox said. "There's still room to improvement in Travis' game and I think he's working to be better. He should be a better player this year. He'll certainly have a spectacular moment here and there but we want to see him be more consistent in the unspectacular ways."

Fox is also optimistic about the potential of freshman Marcus Thornton, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward who signed with the Bulldogs after being released from his scholarship with Clemson.

Thornton has a chance to see significant minutes for Georgia, which also features senior Jeremy Price (7.2 ppg), senior Chris Barnes (3.3 ppg), junior Connor Nolte, freshman Donte Williams and junior Matt Bucklin.

"We have more depth this year," Fox said. "The great thing about this team as opposed to last year, although we don't have the ideal kind of depth, we have more of it, and this year if somebody is not defending like maybe I think they should then I can sit them down because I think we have somebody else who we can trust on the floor. Now we have competition for playing time."

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