BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox’s team this season is deeper than what he’s had in the past.
“I think we finally have a level of experience and physicality and a full complement of players,” Fox said. “I’m not worried about our depth and I probably haven’t been able to say that the last couple of years. It’s a team I’m excited about.”
Even with just one senior, Fox’s group of sophomores and juniors with a lot of minutes will be expected to carry the team.
In the past, Georgia hasn’t always had that luxury.
“The past couple years we’ve had to play the freshmen such massive minutes,” Fox said. “Nemi [Djurisic} started a lot of games as a freshman, Kentavious [Caldwell-Pope] as a freshman, Brandon Morris last year as a freshman, Charles Mann played so much as a freshman, and this year’s freshman class, they might start, but we don’t have to start them like we’ve had to in the past and so that’s the difference.
Realistically, the talented group of freshmen will still contribute, but in roles that allow them to grow with their experience.
“I think what we expect from them is that they’ll contribute,” Fox said. “With Kentavious leaving early, that’s a lot of minutes that we’ve got to fill and we need some of those young kids and play.”
It will also allow the offense to play at an improved tempo compared to what Fox has seen in the past.
“I think we’ve played a little slower, to be honest with you, than I like because we haven’t had depth so I don’t think [we’ll need to slow down],” Fox said.
Kenny Gaines a Natural Replacement for KCP
In the absence of Caldwell-Pope comes another Georgia sophomore.
Kenny Gaines was recruited by Fox as a potential replacements for Caldwell-Pope when he left for the NBA. This season, Gaines will hold a heavy role for the team.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him as the one specific player at his position, but he does have a lot of responsibility to be the leader and carry this team,” junior forward Nemanja Djurisic said.
Although Gaines will replace Caldwell-Pope in the lineup, he won’t be expected to take on the level of production that Caldwell-Pope had.
“Kenny Gaines is obviously the number one candidate to replace Kentavious in the lineup but we can’t say, ‘hey Kenny, go get 20 [points] a night,’ that’s not fair.”
So far, Fox has liked what he’s seen from Gaines.
“Kenny has been really productive in practice,” Fox said. “Kenny’s been a pretty efficient player. He’s shot the ball well and he’s been really complete.”
With Donte’ Williams being the only one senior on the roster, Gaines will have to have a share of the team leadership, although there is a core group of juniors that will help carry that burden.
“Kenny’s a natural leader, so I think that he’s giving us some leadership,” Fox said. “Those [juniors and seniors], I think, are giving us more leadership but I think Kenny is definitely giving us some.”
No Internal Concern about Fox’s Job
Fox’s name has come up among hot-seat discussions in the later years of his Georgia tenure.
Fox has not had a winning season since the 2010-2011 season and has yet to win an NCAA tournament game.
Even with the SEC player of the year, Georgia finished just 15-17 for the second consecutive season and did not make the tournament. However, players are not concerned about their coach’s security.
“Well we as the players don’t think about that stuff and we tend to listen to what is inside of the team and we tend to be more focused on the team stuff and so far we’ve been doing a good job,” Djurisic said. “So far we’ve been trying to get better every day and trying to learn something from the past seasons and implement it this year and build on some more success.”
Likewise, Fox said that he isn’t concerned with the talks, saying that “No one applies more pressure on a coach than he does himself.”
Fox also pointed to the team’s depth as a success in his recruiting strategy and a potential upswing in Georgia basketball.
“We’re excited about our team and we played freshmen for a reason and now they’re getting older and we’re excited about that,” Fox said.