NEW ORLEANS - Nearly seven years later, this city is still marked by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are still houses with an X and a number, eerily marking the number of dead bodies that were found inside. And there are some houses that are just gone, with nothing rebuilt on the spot.
"It's amazing how time goes by you think because time's passed that everything's fixed," Mark Fox said. "That's not the case."
Fox, the Georgia head men's basketball coach, wanted to make sure his players were aware of the tragedy and its effects. So upon the Bulldogs' arrival in New Orleans on Wednesday, he had the bus take a detour through the city's Ninth Ward, which infamously suffered the most devastation.
Fox had seen it before, doing the same thing with his Nevada team in 2007 when it was here for the NCAA tournament. But Georgia players, who were mostly in middle school during Katrina, said they had never been to the city, much less seen the damage in person.
"It's one thing to see it on TV or hear about it from somebody else," sophomore forward Marcus Thornton said. "But to actually see some of the damage yourself and see some of the places - there used to be a lot of homes that just aren't there anymore. It kind of makes you stop for a second and be thankful for everything that's fortunate in your life. I think it was a good experience for us all to see that."
The Bulldogs didn't get out of their bus on Wednesday, just looking at the scenes from their windows. But they said that was enough.
"Definitely it was something I had always wanted to go see," senior guard Dustin Ware said. "Just see and feel, get a feeling for what the people went through down here with Katrina. It was definitely a humbling experience. I was remembering being on the phone with people (in 2005), it was unbelievable how people made it through this. It was a tough situation. Seeing how many changes have been made - and how many haven't."
Freshman forward Nemanja Djurisic, who is from the country of Montenegro, said he had a minimal understanding of Katrina, and learned about it after moving to the U.S. The lesson he could draw from seeing it?
"Appreciate what we have," he said. "And make the most out of it."
This wasn't the first time Fox took his team to the scene of a national tragedy: Two years ago, when Georgia had a scrimmage at Virginia Tech, Fox took the team by the scene of the school shooting, and Ware said they saw graves of victims.
Fox has a brother who used to live in New Orleans, when he was an assistant football coach at Tulane. Hurricane Katrina left an estimated 1,500 dead, and Fox pointed out that there are still officially around 800 missing. The local economy is still trying to recover, and hopes that it can benefit from hosting events like the SEC tournament and the upcoming Final Four, as well as this year's BCS championship.
"I think there's been a lot of progress. But obviously this city and this region had to completely rebuild," Fox said. "That's why I'm sure they're excited to have this tournament and the Final Four here, to bring more attention and more consumer dollars to the region."