The curtain will go up on Mark Fox’s fourth season as the lead Bulldog tonight.
For the first time since he took over, Fox will have a roster composed entirely of players he brought into the program.
“It’s a wonderful group to coach every day, I can say that much,” Fox said. “This is the first team that I’ve had that I really look forward to coaching every day. I really look forward to seeing them every day and I can’t say that’s always been the case. That’s not a knock on the first couple of teams I’ve had here. This team is a greater joy to be with every day.”
Georgia begins the 2012-13 season when it hosts Jacksonville at 7 p.m. today in Stegeman Coliseum. After tonight, Georgia will begin the Progressive Legends Classic opening rounds at home against Youngstown State on Monday and Southern Mississippi on Thursday.
“It’s changed a lot,” junior forward Marcus Thornton said. “I think it’s grown tremendously. I think it’s a program a lot of people respect. I don’t think anybody things Georgia is a pushover anymore. They definitely respect Coach Fox. I think this program has grown tremendously.”
Georgia comes off of a 15-17 season, including 5-11 in the Southeastern Conference, last year. The Bulldogs lost major senior contributors off of last year’s team, guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware.
“The last four years kind of flew,” senior guard Vincent Williams said. “There’s been a lot of changes, like from losing to winning. That’s the biggest change. It hasn’t been that difficult. It’s all about how you function. You get used to functioning like that, it’s not that hard.”
Williams is Fox’s first four-year player at Georgia. He averaged 2.9 points 1.0 rebounds last year. He played in all 32 games and made 11 starts and the only player remaining from the 2009-10 recruiting class. Georgia also has two seniors who were junior college transfers, guard Sherrard Brantley and center John Florveus who were backups in 2011-12.
“That first season I had to learn how to work hard,” Williams said. “When you come from high school, you’re the best player on your team and in your town. You don’t have to work hard, you can just come out there and play. But at this level, you’ve got to work hard every day.”
Fox inherited a team in 2009 with future NBA second-round picks Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie already on the roster. Georgia improved from 12-20 in 2008-09 to 14-17 in Fox’s first season of 2009-10. In Fox’s second season the Bulldogs in 2010-11, Thompkins and Leslie helped power Georgia to a 21-12 record and an NCAA Tournament bid. Leslie and Thompkins left for the NBA draft after their junior seasons which opened major gaps in the frontcourt with little or no experience to fill them. So young forwards like Donte’ Williams, Nemanja Djurisic and Thornton had to grow up quickly. Because they started their careers with Fox helped accelerate the process.
“We don’t fight selfishness anymore,” Fox said. “We don’t fight behavior. We don’t fight the process. They’re fully vested in how we want to function. There’s less push-back from them. They’re very supportive of each other succeeding. That’s really something that excites us.”
Georgia will have a young team for the second straight season. Thornton and Donte’ Williams are the elder statesmen on the front line. Williams (7.8 points per game) and sophomore Djurisic (7.0) were Georgia’s top-scoring frontcourt players last year. Thornton also missed several games with sore knees last year but is healthy to start his season.
“We’re tremendously improved from last year,” Thornton said. “Just the fact that we went out there and we played every game helps a lot. We’re a lot more experienced. We know what to expect and we’re bigger and stronger than we were last year. I think we’re much better as a group.”
Georgia went 15-17 last year but added high-profile freshmen guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines along with forward Brandon Morris.
“I think we have a pretty complete roster now,” Fox said. “We’ve got some depth. We’ve got some athleticism. We have guys who are succeeding off the court and succeeding in the classroom. We have the type of roster that we wanted to put together that gives us some versatility that gives us the ability to play a couple of different ways if the situation requires that.”
Jacksonville at Georgia
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: Stegeman Coliseum.
Radio: WRFC 960-AM.
Records: This is the season opener for both teams.
Probable starting lineups:
Jacksonville: F Glenn Powell (6-5, 220, Sr., 11.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg in 2011-12); F Javon Dawson (6-6, 260, Jr.); F Dylan Fritsch (6-5, 170, Jr.); G Keith McDougald (6-1,206, Jr., 12.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg in 2011-12); G Russell Powell (5-9, 150, Sr., 8.1 ppg. 2.8 rpg in 2011-12).
Georgia: F: John Florveus (6-11, 240, Sr., 1.8 ppg,1.8 rpg in 2011-12); F Nemanja Djurisic (6-8, 230, So., 7.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg in 2011-12); G Vincent Williams (6-5, 205, Sr., 2.9 ppg, 1.4 apg in 2011-12); Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6-5, 205, 13.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg in 2011-12); G Sherrard Brantley (6-2, 187, Sr., 1.7 ppg, 0.8 rpg in 2011-12).
Series record: Georgia leads 8-0.
Last meeting: Georgia won 93-77 in 2006.
Noteworthy: Georgia is 3-0 in season openers under Mark Fox. … This is the first of three home games for Georgia to open the season. Georgia’s first road game is against No. 1-ranked Indiana in the Progressive Legends Classic on Nov. 19 in Brooklyn, N.Y. … Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 422 points which is the fifth-highest season total for a freshman in Georgia history. … Jacksonville guard Russell Powell is from Newnan and forward Javon Dawson is from Cordele. … Jacksonville went 8-22 last season. … Jacksonville head coach Cliff Warren is a former assistant at Georgia Tech with Paul Hewitt from 2001-05.