Sunday, May 15, 2011

UGA Basketball Head Coach Mark Fox Walks the Fine Line Between Recruiting NBA Ready Talent and Building A Program

Coming off an NCAA Tournament season, Mark Fox thought he may have a chance at a top 15 team next year if his star Juniors returned for their senior season. Normally, a coach with two potential first round NBA Draft picks would not put much faith in the players returning, but with a likely lockout looming hope was not entirely lost.

Trey Thompkins was the first to announce stating he would hire an agent and therefore forgo his final season.

Travis Leslie entered his name for evaluations but did not hire an agent leaving the door open for a return. But like Thompkins, Leslie ultimately decided to stay in the Draft.

Over a span of few weeks following the season, Mark Fox had lost 45% of his team's scoring from a year ago (63% if you include the two seniors).

But Fox is not down too much about the loss instead turning it into a positive for recruiting in an interview with the AJC last week.

“Here’s how I see it — I think it really shows our player development,” UGA basketball coach Mark Fox said recently.

“I think you could point to Travis Leslie’s development; how’s he improved as a player while he has been with us, as well as others in our program. It has been a real plus.

“I think it shows that kids can realistically pursue their basketball dreams through Georgia.”

Fox is certainly correct in saying the movement upward to the NBA for two of his players will open more eyeballs to UGA's Basketball program, but that must be balanced with building a program too.

Schools like Kentucky, Ohio State and Memphis have lost a lot of talent early to the NBA. The Wildcats and Buckeyes have managed to maintain a high level of play with a bevy of top recruiting classes to replace those departed while Memphis is still trying to get back up to the level it once held.

Kentucky lost two more early entries this season after five the previous year but is working on another top recruiting class to replace them.

Even a school like Butler, a program who went to two straight Championship games, is starting to feel the sting of early entries with one each of the last two seasons. But Brad Stevens got the Bulldogs within one win of a National Championship the last two seasons because of the player development aspect of his program, not because of attracting high level talent.

Fox does not have to look far to find an example of how difficult it can be to balance high level talent with a winning program.

Paul Hewitt struggled with early entries in his last five years at Georgia Tech seeing three players exit for the NBA Draft after one year and two more after their third year.

Hewitt recently admitted his teams were perpetually young at the point guard, a position where you need experience.

Luckily, Fox should not have to worry about with Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware both returning.

Fox has brought UGA Basketball back from the SEC East cellar to an NCAA Tournament in just two seasons, but the two players who contributed the most to that effort are gone.

Now the real work starts in building his own program and walking the right side of that fine line in basketball recruiting that will ultimately determine how successful he is.

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