Georgia Bulldogs: Mark Fox

ATHENS, Ga. -- In the short term, SEC Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s decision to leave Georgia for the NBA was a devastating blow to coach Mark Fox’s program.

[+] EnlargeMark Fox
Dale Zanine/US PresswireMark Fox hopes recent NBA draft picks will help Georgia on the recruiting trail.
The sophomore was one of the conference’s most skilled and well-rounded players and yet the Bulldogs still failed to post a winning record -- the third time in Fox’s four seasons at Georgia where that was the case. However, Fox prefers to use Caldwell-Pope’s accomplishments and likely status as a first-round pick in Thursday’s NBA draft as confirmation of his pitch to recruits.

Fox inherited a mess when he took over for Dennis Felton in 2009, accepting leadership for a program that was not competitive on the floor, struggling to retain its best players -- much less place them in the NBA after productive college careers -- and in complete disarray academically. It was a problem that predated Felton as all of those problems existed on some level for more than a decade.

“When we started, it was all just about, ‘Take my word for it. We’re going to develop players and you can become a pro here.’ And ‘Take my word for it. You’re going to graduate,’ ” Fox said. “We couldn’t really show you anybody [who] was going pro, and we couldn’t really show you a great graduation record.”

When Fox took over, Georgia hadn’t had a single player drafted since Rashad Wright in 2004. The Bulldogs hadn’t had a first-round pick since Jarvis Hayes in 2003 and totaled only three first-rounders since 1990. But by the end of his second season, Fox’s staff had helped a pair of Felton recruits, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, develop into NBA draft picks -- with both players going in the second round of the 2011 draft and getting traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in draft-day trades.

Caldwell-Pope would give Fox his third NBA pick since completing his debut season at Georgia, a total that would tie Florida and Vanderbilt for second most among SEC programs in that timespan -- although well behind conference leader Kentucky’s 15.

And the Bulldogs have made significant progress in the classroom, as well. Georgia’s men’s basketball program scored a 990 on the NCAA’s most recent Academic Progress Rate (APR) report, ranking second in the SEC after posting one of the nation’s worst multi-year APR scores only a few years ago.

Further, every player who made it to his senior season under Fox at Georgia has earned a degree.

“So what’s been really important for us is to really establish some of those things, so now when we go in there, we’re not just blowing smoke and asking people to trust you,” Fox said. “You can actually show them that, ‘Hey, we do develop players and you can get drafted and you will earn a degree.’ That’s been really important.”

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Georgia hasn’t done much to slow Jadeveon Clowney's pass rush in its first two meetings with South Carolina and its star defensive end. So offensive coordinator Mike Bobo joked that the Bulldogs might have to get creative with how they attack him in their third meeting this fall.

“I think we’re going to do the old Burt Reynolds ‘Longest Yard’ and not block him and let [quarterback Aaron] Murray throw it at him,” Bobo cracked at Thursday’s UGA Day meeting in Augusta, referencing the infamous scene in the 1974 football movie where Reynolds’ quarterback character repeatedly pegs a vicious opponent, played by gridiron great Ray Nitschke, in the groin.

Aaron Murray
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney has harrassed Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in each of their first two meetings.
Getting serious, though, Bobo said the Bulldogs have focused their pass protection schemes on Clowney in various ways over the last two seasons and he still accounted for three sacks, four tackles for a loss and a fumble that led to a back-breaking touchdown late in the Gamecocks’ 2011 win in Athens.

At some point, it’s a given that one of the top defensive players in the nation is going to make a big play, Bobo said.

“We can’t throw the ball backwards when he’s about to sack us and we’ve got to hold onto the ball and not turn a bad play into catastrophe,” Bobo said. “That’s what’s got to happen when we play him because he’s going to get [his]. He’s a great player. ... We’ve just got to play hard and like I said, he’s going to make some plays and we’ll do some things to hopefully try to discourage him.”

The key is doing what they can to limit the damage -- and they’ll try to scheme toward that end again in September.

“I think our guys are eager to play that game. We were obviously embarrassed [last year] and got thoroughly whipped by that defense,” Bobo said of the Bulldogs’ 35-7 loss in Columbia last season. “So we’ll be ready for that game, I promise you.”

Bobo made his first-ever appearance Thursday on Georgia’s summertime circuit of alumni association tour stops, and he was joined by men’s basketball coach Mark Fox, athletic director Greg McGarity and Jere Morehead, who will succeed Michael Adams as university president this summer.

Among the other points Bobo and Fox made in interviews prior to the event:

• He called the third tailback spot behind Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall a “big concern for me,” as the Bulldogs’ depth at the position was not ideal during the spring. He expects that signees A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas will both play this fall.

“They’re going to have to play,” he said. “You say that and you never know, but we’re going to go in there with the idea of getting them ready to play and it might not be week one. It might be, ‘Hey we’re getting them ready to play’ and they’re playing on special teams and by week four, week five, that confidence they’ve gained on special teams has enabled them to play scrimmage downs.”

• Bobo said freshman receiver Tramel Terry is ahead of schedule in his return from a torn ACL suffered last December and should begin running routes this summer. He added that All-SEC offensive guard Chris Burnette -- who missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery -- “has really changed his body since being out” and looks to be in great shape for when the Bulldogs open preseason camp in August.

• Fox said assistant coach Kwanza Johnson remains on Georgia’s staff as of now. TCU has approached Johnson about an assistant coaching job and Fox said he should make a decision in the near future.

• Fox said Georgia will likely not know the dates of its 2013-14 SEC games until August.

• Bulldogs forward Nemanja Djurisic is going home to Montenegro for UGA’s May semester, but plans to rejoin his teammates on campus for the second summer session. Fox said he expects all of Georgia’s players to be on campus for at least part of the summer, which will provide them with valuable preparation time as they prepare for preseason practice in the fall.

Spring cleaning: Jay Rome 

April, 24, 2013
Editor's note: Over the next couple of weeks, we'll clean out our notebook from Georgia's spring practice to tell the stories we didn't get to before the Bulldogs' G-Day game. We started with fullback Quayvon Hicks earlier this week. Today we catch up with tight end Jay Rome.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Jay Rome and Arthur Lynch established themselves late last season as weapons in Georgia’s passing game. Now Rome has an ambitious goal for the duo entering their second season as the Bulldogs’ primary options at the position.

Mark Fox has added another player to the Class of 2013, just six days after learning that SEC Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was leaving for the NBA.

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DawgNation week in review 

April, 20, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- Short of national signing day itself, nothing creates a bigger buzz around RecruitingNation than when we unveil and update the ESPN 150.

That list of some of the nation’s top prospects dropped on Thursday, with a number of Georgia targets making the list. Georgia doesn’t count an ESPN 150 member among its three 2014 commitments thus far, but that could change soon.

This week, we took a look at Georgia’s chances of landing some of the top ESPN 150 players on its board and also updated the Bulldogs’ efforts to land some other top talent, including:

  • Defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard (Fayetteville, N.C./Pine Forest), who said Georgia leads.
  • Defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross)

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Fox talks new signee, recruiting 

April, 18, 2013
MACON, Ga. -- Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox officially announced his team’s newest 2013 signee Thursday afternoon. He met with reporters at the UGA Day tour stop in Macon on Thursday evening to discuss the newest Bulldog, Kenny Paul Geno, recruiting and the Bulldogs’ 2013-14 schedule.

Geno, a 6-foot-6 small forward, averaged 23.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game as a senior at Boonesville (Miss.) High School. The high riser likely will bring fans to their feet with his leaping ability, but Fox likes his long-range shooting ability even more.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia coach Mark Fox wished SEC Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope well Monday after the sophomore guard announced that he will skip his final two seasons of college to enter the NBA draft.

“I think he went back and forth some and he took his time,” Fox said. “He took his time, but it wasn’t easy. Even today, in thanking me today and he’s very appreciative of his experience that he’s had at Georgia. He really has enjoyed playing here and he’s got an opportunity to pursue his lifelong dream and he’s chosen to do that.”

ESPN’s Chad Ford ranks Caldwell-Pope as the No. 21 overall prospect and No. 6 shooting guard in the June draft and projects him as a mid-first-round selection. Fox said he believed Caldwell-Pope weighed the proper information before making his decision.

“He went as far as to investigate what life would be like if he’s a guy that’s drafted and is placed in the D-League,” Fox said. “He’s researched this thing very, very well, very deeply and I thought he handled it very well to be honest with you.”

But Caldwell-Pope’s departure likely lowers the ceiling for Fox’s club in 2013-14, much like when juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie entered the 2011 draft and the Bulldogs slipped from 21-12 and a spot in the NCAA tournament to 15-17 the following season.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Half-court buzzer-beaters, last-second jump shots, ill-timed and questionable whistles -- all of those elements have contributed to a series of last-minute losses for Georgia in the last two months.

“We keep it interesting,” said Bulldogs forward Nemanja Djurisic, whose team’s most recent loss came Saturday, when Alabama’s Trevor Releford drained a 60-footer at the buzzer to give the Crimson Tide a 61-58 victory.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia
AP Photo/Vasha Hunt/Alabama Media GroupEven with Alabama's win over Georgia last weekend, the Bulldogs' average margin of loss in a 13-game stretch in SEC play is just 4.6 points.
But while Djurisic and the Bulldogs have lost more than their fair share of heartbreakers since late January, they have also proved something to themselves.

“We know we can compete with any team in the league if we play the way we can play to win,” Freshman All-SEC point guard Charles Mann said. “So that’s not really a big problem with us. It gave us a lot of confidence.”

This young Georgia team got off to an atrocious start, first by dropping seven of their first nine games of the season and then by starting SEC play with a 1-4 mark. And yet as the season progressed, SEC Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the way, freshmen like Mann, forward Brandon Morris and shooting guard Kenny Gaines began to settle in and the Bulldogs suddenly became competitive.

Entering Thursday’s SEC tournament opener against LSU (18-11, 9-9 SEC), Georgia (15-16, 9-9) has won eight of its last 13 conference games -- and every game the Bulldogs lost easily could have been a victory. Their widest margin of defeat in that 13-game stretch was a 10-point loss at Ole Miss, but that came in overtime after forward Donte Williams missed a tip-in that would have won the game at the end of regulation. Including that loss, Georgia’s average margin of defeat in those games is just 4.6 points.

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Caldwell-Pope wins SEC's top honor

March, 12, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- Typically conference players of the year come from teams whose league records are better than .500, but Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s performance this season was apparently too good for the SEC’s coaches to ignore.

They voted him as SEC Player of the Year, making the sophomore the first Bulldog to win the award from the SEC coaches and just the second UGA player -- joining Dominique Wilkins in 1981 -- to win any sort of SEC player of the year award since 1965.

“I was really shocked,” said Caldwell-Pope, whose Bulldogs (15-16, 9-9 SEC) face LSU on Thursday in their first SEC tournament game. “There are a lot of great players for Florida and whoever. I was really shocked to have won. Now that I’ve won, it’s a joyful feeling just knowing I won it.”

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ATHENS, Ga. -- The big news out of Athens this week concerned raises for each of Mark Richt’s football assistants -- including a big raise and new three-year contract for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Bobo received a $240,000 pay bump to $575,000 per year and assistants Will Friend and Tony Ball also got sizable raises, but all nine Richt assistants received a pay increase of some sort.

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Bulldogs among SEC's hottest teams 

February, 9, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- Don’t look now, but Georgia is all of a sudden one of the hottest teams in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeKentavious Caldwell-Pope
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesKentavious Caldwell-Pope is leading the Bulldogs, scoring 17.8 points a game and 6.4 rebounds a game.
Entering today’s 5 p.m. game against Texas A&M (14-8, 4-5 SEC) at Stegeman Coliseum, Coach Mark Fox's Bulldogs (11-11, 5-4) have won four in a row, all in SEC play. That matches Kentucky for the league’s longest active winning streak.

But the streak has greater historical relevance than simply where it ranks this season in the SEC. It’s the longest regular-season SEC winning streak for Georgia in a decade, dating back to February 2003 when the Bulldogs beat Vanderbilt, Alabama, South Carolina and Ole Miss in consecutive games during Jim Harrick’s final season as coach.

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Brendan Langley visits Georgia, again 

November, 5, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia football team has played five home games, and South Carolina defensive back commit Brendan Langley (Marietta, Ga./Kell) has visited for three of them. He was in town again Saturday as the Bulldogs hosted the Ole Miss Rebels.

Brendan Langley
Tom Hauck/ESPNHSCB Brendan Langley (Marietta, Ga./Kell) says Georgia still leads Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina on his list.
“It went well as usual,” Langley said. “I had a good time at the game. I met with Coach [Mark] Richt and all of them. He said, ‘Glad to have you, glad to see you back again. Keep in mind we still want you, need you and you haven’t signed anything yet. Time is ticking but there is still time to change your mind.’ I acknowledged that, and I understand that.”

The ESPN 300 cornerback plans to enroll early, so he has less time than he normally would if he waited until signing day to make his final decision. In the meantime, Langley says he is solid to the Gamecocks.

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KCP's role changes as sophomore 

October, 18, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- Away from the court, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does not seem like the type of guy who would get overly excited about anything. But the soft-spoken sophomore and Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox admit that there were times in his Freshman All-SEC season where he simply was not under control.

“I think Kentavious is really naturally a very quiet, soft-spoken young man, but when the scoreboard turns on or when we start playing, his personality changes and he cares about winning, he cares about playing hard and sometimes we have to slow him down,” Fox said.

“I think looking back at last year, he had a lot of plays defensively where maybe he picked up a foul or two because he didn’t know how to control his motor, he was so aggressive.”

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UGA freshmen have chance to start 

October, 12, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Fox proved he isn’t afraid to play freshmen by giving heavy minutes to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Nemanja Djurisic last season. Georgia’s basketball coach all but guaranteed on Tuesday that he will do more of the same this season with newcomers Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris.

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Notebook: Fox likes Georgia's depth 

October, 10, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Fox doesn’t know for sure how his reconstructed team will fare against an expanded SEC schedule, but Georgia’s basketball coach thinks this will be the deepest and most athletic Bulldogs team he has fielded.

The Bulldogs lost starting guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware from last season’s 15-17 club, but the roster of key contributors otherwise remains intact plus three freshmen -- point guard Charles Mann, shooting guard Kenny Gaines and small forward Brandon Morris -- who will play key roles this season.

“We have more pieces this year,” Fox said at Tuesday’s season-opening press conference. “We’re a deeper basketball team, we’re more athletic than we were, we’re a more physical group, certainly a more experienced group than we were last year. We are going to miss the experience of Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware in the backcourt, but that’s really the only key pieces we lost off last year’s team.

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Peach State: Top Tier Recruiting Ground?
California, Florida and Texas are largely considered the "Big Three" in college football recruiting. But national recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to explain why Georgia deserves to be in the top tier and has numbers to prove it.