University of Georgia Now a Two Sport School: Fox Has Dawg Nation Glued

Mike Foster@michaelsfosterCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2010

As of tonight the Georgia Bulldogs hoops program has a less than astounding 9-8 record.

But, they might be the best 9-8 team in the entire country, and their resume of legitimacy has been about a month in the making with big wins over Illinois, Georgia Tech, and near upsets against Kentucky, Mississippi, and Mississippi State.

However, for those who didn't believe in the Bulldogs ability, Georgia proved their arrival on the hardwood with a 78-63 stomping of the Tennessee Volunteers.

Sure, you may say Tennessee is missing key players. But, that same Tennessee team, without the likes of Tyler Smith, still beat No. 1 Kansas.

They still were ranked No. 8 heading into Athens Saturday night. And the no name Bulldogs put Bruce Pearl's club through an absolute clinic.

As the buzzer sounded the end of the game, at the other end of the floor stood a confident and collected Mark Fox. With a subtle wave and peek to the 10,000 plus fans who cheered Fox off the court, Fox simply gave a shy gesture and trotted to the tunnel--completely focused, as if Georgia might have another game to play this week.

Mind you, they do. Georgia didn't win an SEC title last night, and Mark Fox's body language uttered nothing of pandemonium.

But, Fox left the floor with Stegeman Colisiem more jam packed and electric as it has been in years.

Sure, the Dawgs are 9-8. But, we kind of all saw this win coming, and considering what things looked like just weeks ago we kind of feel like we just won something huge.

Georgia's basketball team was pathetic, absolutely pathetic last season. They were the sloppiest team in the Southeastern Conference.

Coming into the year Georgia returned relatively the same team, minus their one leftover from the SEC Tourney Championship in Terrance Woodbury. It seemed nothing could bring Georgia's hopeless team into a bigger picture, not even some random guy from the other side of the states generically named Mark Fox.

Months later, and we aren't dropping the CMR talk. We aren't talking about Georgia's latest coaching hires. We aren't talking about Rennie Curran and Reshad Jones leaving.

We are talking about Georgia basketball. Georgia basketball? They have a team?

At the beginning of this season my cousin offered me two free tickets to go watch the Georgia vs. Wofford contest. Usually free tickets to a free college sporting event are taken, however I could not motivate myself to drive seventy miles to watch a Georgia basketball game.

And, it was a good call not to go. Georgia lost to Wofford 57-60. I thought to myself, here we go embarassing ourselves by losing to a mid major again.

The next game UAB beat them 72-56. Really? Wofford and Alabama-Birmingham? We let a hyphenated school beat us? When was the last time a hyphenated school won anything?

Next was the first Georgia game I got to catch on television. Georgia vs. St. Johns. Once again the Dawgs were their same old sloppy selves. Then they beat Illinois, but I thought it was a fluke.

The next game: Missouri. I watched for fifteen minutes and saw Georgia attempt three total shots. I decided I had had enough with Georgia basketball. I decided watching them labor through an SEC schedule was going to be brutal.

I almost decided I was going to transfer to Georgia and walk on; see if I can't make the team. Ok, not really, but you see where I am going with this.

But, right before I turned the television off in the Missouri game I got a glimpse of Mark Fox's face of disapproval during a timeout and I think I saw something. I think I saw a guy who actually expected more from this group. It was like coach Fox was absolutely dumbfounded that the Dawgs were getting beat so bad.

But, the look also spoke of faith, like "You guys can actually do this."

Georgia lost 89-61.

Three days later they played in state rival Georgia Tech, and they beat the ranked Yellow Jackets 73-66. And wouldn't you know it, the players weren't playing so bad.

Dustin Ware, Georgia's point guard, went from a sloppy ball handler and turnover extraordinaire into a field general. Travis Leslie, Georgia's out of control leaper turned into a superstar. Ricky McPhee, a former walk on, all of a sudden was a sharpshooter.

Howard "Trey" Thompkins, Georgia's "prospect" player all of a sudden became a team leader.

And Mark Fox, that drop in the bucket coaching hire, all of a sudden became the most popular man in Athens, Georgia.

With just an 8-5 record people were starting to buzz.

When you are picked to place dead last in the SEC, you don't expect much as a fan. You expect your team to get trounced.

Well, Georgia played man for man with the Kentucky Wildcats, who are clearly the best team in the nation. The Dawgs had to blow a late lead to lose the game.

Georgia then played their season opener vs. ranked Ole Miss all the way down to the wire, losing on a playground type play in the final seconds.

Georgia then lost a thirteen point lead with four minutes left on the road vs. Jarvis Varnado and Mississippi State's rising program.

Here are three of the SEC's best teams and Georgia played on their toes.

This wasn't a boys vs. men three games series, this was a men vs. men series that Georgia was a few sloppy minutes away from sweeping.

But, thank the lord, all of a sudden we were talking about a few sloppy minutes. A few weeks ago we were talking about sloppy games.


And, what do you know, against Tennessee last night Georgia played the sharpest game in years.

The first half performance, culminating with a 42-27 lead, was the most perfect twenty minutes of basketball I had seen in a long time.

In the game we saw about a dozen dunks. We saw Georgia absolutely dominate in rebounds. We saw Georgia block shots with authority.

The Dawgs played with total confidence.

In just a few months Mark Fox has taken a sloppy team not worthy of a mid major conference to a crisp and dangerous team.

Travis Leslie, Georgia's guard/forward, has quickly emerged into the most exciting player in the SEC not named John Wall.

Leslie has compiled ridiculous highlights thus far this season, and I might even go as far as to say he is going to be the big name on campus until Fall comes around.

Howard Thompkins has proven he is All-SEC worthy, dominating with his post play and perimeter abilities.

And all of a sudden people are taking notice. But, did Mark Fox seems surprised at all with the win? With eight minutes left and a twenty point lead he called a timeout and had that same look of disdain I saw on his face against Missouri.

Because his players were playing sloppy for a few seconds. Seconds. Not halves. Not minutes. Seconds.

Did Mark Fox really just raise the standards at UGA from SEC bottom dweller to dominator of Tennessee and foe of Kentucky in just weeks time?

And more amazingly, did Stegeman Coliseum really just fill to capacity for a previously 8-8 basketball team?

Georgia is playing great basketball at the moment, full of highlights, and the fans have taken notice. Words cannot describe how excited people are with their last five performances, even though they went 2-3 in that span.

Fox has done an eye popping job of improving and coaching up his team, and he might be primed to leave a serious new "mark" in Athens.


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