While Georgia has endured a disappointing season based on preseason expectations, it hasn’t deterred a group of future Bulldogs from believing in the direction of the basketball program.
With two All-SEC players in J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten back for the 2016-17 season, the NCAA Tournament was seen as a likely destination. That combined with landing top-200 prospects Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton brought plenty of excitement for the future, too. But with the regular season and SEC Tournament ending in a 19-14 overall record and a second consecutive NIT appearance, the basketball program has encountered its share of criticism.
On top of all that, head coach Mark Fox was the subject of a Yahoo! Sports report stating his job might be in jeopardy. Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity refuted the report in a strong statement, which made mention that he will be the basketball program’s next season.
Prior to the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Georgia’s current players said they felt as if there was no indication that Fox could be relieved of his duties. Claxton and Hammonds felt the same and think he’s close to breaking through as Georgia’s head coach.
“I definitely have faith in Coach Fox,” Claxton said. “We did all right this season, we had a few tough losses that hurt our record. I feel like even though this year is a down year, he still has this program trending in the right direction. He’s one of the reasons I chose Georgia, and we’re going to help turn this program around.”
Claxton added that no conversations were made between he and Georgia’s staff in regards to a potential coaching change. He and Hammonds expressed a sense of confidence that the Georgia basketball program is ready to proceed past being in consolation games to becoming a fixture in the NCAA Tournament.
“It meant a lot to see them compete for a tournament bid at the end of the season,” Hammonds said. “It says to me that we can be really good next year. We’re adding more talent to this team, and I feel really comfortable fitting into the system. It fits my style of play.”
Hammonds also highlighted Fox’s success in the academic realm, in which he has led all of his four-year players to graduate during his eight seasons.
After seeing the intricacies of his recruitment from a different perspective, Hammonds’ high school head coach praised the direction that Georgia’s program is being led in under Fox.
“He’s absolutely the right coach for Georgia basketball,” Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan said. “He has a top-notch staff and puts a competitive team on the floor every game. I am extremely excited to see how Rayshaun grows as a player and a person under Coach Fox. Rayshaun is a young man with a world of potential, and I believe coach Fox is the right guy to help him reach it.
“Georgia can become a consistent contender because I feel like with what they have returning, that Rayshaun can be an important piece next year. Moving forward, signing players like Rayshaun and Nic will help land other top prospects.”
In terms of the Bulldogs’ rotation for next season, forwards Kenny Paul Geno and Houston Kessler are set to graduate. Thus, the opening is present for Hammonds and Claxton to compete with E’Torrion Wilridge and Mike Edwards at the wing and with the power forward positions.
But next year’s roster will need to replace the production of Frazier, who is set to close his Georgia career as one of the program’s top statistical performers.
How can the Bulldogs replace him?
“That’s impossible,” Claxton said. “It’s going to be a collective effort. We have a lot of length, versatility and ability to play inside and out. But it’ll have to be combined with the newcomers and those already there.”