The Georgia men‚Äôs basketball team returned to Athens this fall a little more cultured than any other season in the Mark Fox era.
The team went on a 10-day tour of Italy at the beginning of August and faced off against three international clubs as they took in the sights and got some exposure to the European lifestyle.
‚ÄúLooking back on it, I thought that educationally it was very good,‚Äù Fox said. ‚ÄúI thought basketball-wise it was very good and certainly gave us a chance to develop some stronger team chemistry, so I was really pleased.‚Äù
The Bulldogs traveled to various cities such as Milan, Rome and Venice, and even so far from home got recognized for the logo on their shirts.
‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs great is that Bulldog Nation is worldwide. I don‚Äôt think there was a city we visited where you didn‚Äôt run into a Bulldog somewhere,‚Äù Fox said. ‚ÄúI think that was terrific. Our guys, I think they loved that.‚Äù
Georgia went 2-1 during their tour, falling to a professional club from Lithuania by four points. In the loss, Fox said the team wasn‚Äôt as sharp as it could have been, but he didn‚Äôt discredit its opponent.
‚ÄúWe didn‚Äôt play with a great deal of energy, and we looked like an exhausted group. We still scored 90 points, but we gave up 94,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI thought we played teams that really forced us to defend and work and it was a great experience for us.‚Äù
Outside of wins and losses, Georgia‚Äôs head coach said the most important part of the trip was the in-game experience for some of the younger players on the team.
‚ÄúOur freshman, they realized how hard and how fast you have to play. With such quick possessions, that if you take just a couple seconds break there‚Äôs going to be a costly consequence for that,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúSo they were able to see some of those things, and certainly just get game experience which is so valuable.‚Äù
It was the younger athletes who showed the most growth during the trip, most notably, center Tim Dixon.
‚ÄúI think it was a situation where Tim probably stood out the most of the guys who had played significant minutes,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI was pleased with (some of the) freshman perimeter players. They all had some very good plays. Obviously had some plays that they can learn from, but Tim took a big step forward.‚Äù
With only 10 practices to prepare for the trip, the Bulldogs weren‚Äôt as sound defensively as they could have, which Fox wasn‚Äôt afraid to admit.
‚ÄúOur defense was awful. We gave up 94 points one game, and I‚Äôll be honest ‚Ä¶ in 10 practices you just don‚Äôt have enough time to implement all the things that you want to,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúIn a situation with 10 practices as broken up as ours were, it was probably impossible to address it like we would in a regular season. But defensively, we got a ways to go.‚Äù
Forward Marcus Thornton, who is still rehabbing his injured knee, was able to practice with the team as he continues to make strides towards his return.
‚ÄúMarcus was able to practice in certain situations where there was no contact and he did quite a bit of things in preparation for the trip,‚Äù Fox said. ‚ÄúHe has not been cleared for contact, but he‚Äôs moving very well in his rehab.‚Äù
The other headline this offseason for the Bulldogs was forward Donte Williams‚Äô arrest on May 25 for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Since the incident, Williams has passed multiple drug tests, and the case has since been dismissed. Fox said he had nothing further to add on his status as far as possible suspensions are concerned.
Off court issues aside, Fox said he is pleased with the physicality of this team but remains skeptical moving forward.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre just bigger, we‚Äôre more mature physically, we‚Äôre more athletic, (and) we have better depth,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúMy list of concerns is a mile long. I didn‚Äôt think we defended very well; are we going to be able to improve in that area? Are we going to be able to pick up the system that we‚Äôre trying to implement? I think there‚Äôs a lot of things, as any coach would be probably concerned about.‚Äù