ATHENS — Before focusing on leading Georgia to an NCAA tournament appearance, first-year coach Mark Fox has a more pressing need.
Winning recruiting battles in his home state comes first, and Fox knows his work has just begun to positively spin the Bulldogs with nearby high school kids.
"That’s an issue that this program has faced," Fox said Tuesday. "I think what we’re focused on is that young people come to Georgia and all their dreams can come true."
Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina are visiting the same homes. Fox also must convince recruits that his university offers a better alternative than other regional schools like Clemson and Florida State that the Bulldogs rarely play.
"We want young men to know they can come to Georgia and leave to play in the NBA," Fox said. "They can come to Georgia and leave here with a degree. They can come to Georgia and play in the NCAA tournament. Those are things we have to establish."
In his previous job, Fox was instrumental in helping Nevada earn three NCAA bids in five seasons. Georgia is coming off a 12-20 season and a 3-13 mark in the Southeastern Conference under Fox’s predecessor, Dennis Felton, and former interim coach Pete Herrmann.
Fox already solved his biggest potential problem in May when highly regarded forward Trey Thompkins, the Bulldogs’ top returning scorer (12.6 points) and rebounder (7.9), decided not to transfer.
Another concern was getting other returning players to believe in his ability to wipe out the disappointment that Felton, despite a surprising SEC tournament title in 2008, left behind with a career conferencerecord of 26-59 at Georgia.
Center Albert Jackson, who along with guard Ricky McPhee is one of just two returning seniors projected for lots of minutes, was the first player to verbally support Fox when the new coach held his debut meeting with the Bulldogs.
"I think he can be a good example and a good leader for us," Fox said. "Hopefully he won’t be the lone ranger in that regard."
Fox went 123-43 in five years at Nevada, winning four Western Athletic Conference titles. The Wolf Pack advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament twice, an accomplishment that has helped him show that his insistence on running man-to-man defense and a hybrid version of NBA coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense can work.
Dustin Ware is the only returning point guard with experience, but Fox signed transfer Gerald Robinson to help in practice. Robinson, who averaged 17.8 points last season at Tennessee State, can’t play until next year.
"I think our players are ready for a fresh start," Fox said. "I think last year was a long year was a long year for them. They would admit that to you. I’ve inherited a group of young people that are very receptive to what we want to do."