Q&A: Mark Fox discusses next season

semerson@macon.comApril 26, 2013 

Earlier this week the Georgia men's basketball team finalized its roster for next season, with the signings of two players after the early departure of SEC player of the year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. I sat down with Fox to talk about next season, from lineups that will be employed, how the new guys will figure in, and how the team can still succeed with Caldwell-Pope. Fox also discussed his AAU recruiting.

Q: I know you wouldn’t sign one-dimensional guys, but with the signing of Cameron Forte and Kenny Paul Geno, it seems their forte’ – pun intended – is they can put the ball in the hoop.

Fox: Kenny Paul, he’s really athletic, he gets way above the rim. But that’s not why we signed him. We signed him because he can shoot the ball. He can make shots. He was a guy that we recruited all year that we didn’t really have the scholarship (available) until Kentavious left. But we liked his ability to score the ball. Same thing with Cameron Forte. We need more offense and guys that can finish plays. And we’re trying to recruit some offensive players. We’ll teach them to defend; no high school player really knows how to defend anyway. We’ll deal with that when they get there.

Q: How much of that scoring for Cameron comes in the lane, finishing?

Fox: Oh he’s a slasher, he’s got a real knack to score inside of 17 feet. I mean he’s got a real knack to score. He’s scored at every level (he’s played). He’s not a guy who shoots a ton of 3s, that’s not his game. But he’s got a variety of ways to score it, inside of 17, 18 feet.

Q: Obviously none of these guys are pure post guys and obviously that’s been a big issue the past few years –

Fox: Sure.

Q: Are you hoping for big improvement from guys like John (Cannon), Tim (Dixon)?

Fox: Well those guys need to improve. Strength will be the biggest thing with Tim. John has gotten more and more comfortable as we’ve gone along. Donte’ and Nemi need to – I mean Nemi finished the season really well, he started the season really poorly. We’ll need improvement from those guys. But also if you see the game now, there’s not a lot of great front-line centers. The game’s becoming more stretch-fours. That’s what I like about Nemi and Houston Kessler, we’ll be able to play some four-out, some pick-and-pop action. And spread the scoring out. Kentavious was such a good scorer that we ran a lot of stuff for him. And we’ll be able to spread that out a little more.

Q: That’s what I was wondering in terms of four-out. Could you emphasize – until the post guys really emerge – a super-small lineup where Nemi is the tallest guy out there?

Fox: Oh yeah, we’re gonna be able to play fast, we’re gonna be able to play very versatile. Guys interchangeable in spots. We’re gonna be able to play really quick. We’ll be able to pressure more. So without question that’s a real possibility (playing super-small). You could see Nemi play (center), no question. No question.

Q: So put your best five out there, even if none of them is a pure post.

Fox: You could see us play a four, with two small forwards and two guards. You could see us play two guards, a small forwards and two (power forwards). I think you could see a lot of versatility in our lineup.

Q: Was there any particular reason you couldn’t do that this past year?

Fox: Well, I think this past year, what was hard for us is Brandon (Morris), a freshman, is learning one spot (small forward), that’s a lot. We had to play him one week at (power forward). It was just impossible for him to learn two position. With Marcus (Thornton’s) injury we were not as flexible as we would have liked to have been. I think we were headed that way before he got hurt. We had the ability to do some of that (play a smaller lineup) offensively. But we couldn’t go the other way and defend. When you have Marcus, you could see Marcus play anywhere from three, four, five. He can guard those positions. That’s one thing with Brandon last year, that wasn’t really possible, because he couldn’t guard a (power forward). He’s just too thin.

Q: It also seems with the length you all have, with a 6-foot-4 point guard (Charles Mann), Brandon at 6-7, then a super-small lineup isn’t 5-10, 5-11, 6-2, etc.

Fox: No, we’re gonna be 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-8, 6-8. Or 6-8, 6-9. And have the luxury of that length across the board. Which I thought really helped us across the board.

Fox spent much of Wednesday driving around south Georgia, where he was recruiting in some rural areas.

Q: You've had a good amount of luck with recruiting small towns, with Kentavious.

Fox: The people in this part of the state, a lot of these guys are native Georgia people, that have an affinity for UGA. I think sometimes in like Atlanta, a lot of people have moved in, maybe didn't grow up with that affinity. It has to be developed. But there's certainly that connection down here.

Q: It's not in this state, but do you think Kenny (Paul Geno) was one of those guys who was under-the-radar because he wasn't in the AAU circuit?

Fox: Oh, no question about it.

Q: And you don't see the AAU connection as much in this area (in south Georgia)?

Fox: Well you're starting to. It's taking over the world. For instance, I spent all last weekend watching AAU games. I'll spend all this weekend watching AAU games. I'll spend all of July watching AAU games. And so the majority of our evaluations come from watching those events. Because when they're with their high school team, we're (coaching) our team, we're playing games, practicing, and it's hard to get out and see more than one guy or two guys in a week. Whereas in a weekend you can watch 60 or 70 guys and get a good evaluation of them. So AAU, that circuit is important to us, and we spend a lot of time watching them.

Q: Kentavious is obviously a big hole to fill.

Fox: Well when Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins left, we just weren't in position for that not to cause us significant setback. We felt like Kentavious leaving was a possibility, so we tried to recruit (for it). We signed a two-guard last fall. We had a freshman behind him this year. So that spot's not as empty as it would have been. But still, he was a great player, and it's going to leave some holes to fill. Certainly he filled some holes for us.

Q: Is the aim for this team next year to be one of those that's greater than the sum of its parts?

Fox: No question. I think if you look at our team a year ago, the best offensive half we probably played was at South Carolina, the second half. I think we shot 60 percent. Kentavious was 1-for-3. But last year, even though Kentavious was a terrific lead gun, we played our best basketball when we had eight or nine guys contribute. This will have to be a team. And they understand that, and I think they're excited about that.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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