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When asked about the keys to attracting players who could make the Bulldogs a consistent winner, Fox had a succinct and description of what he thought was most vital.
“They have to see that their dreams can come true – that they can win and play in the postseason, that they can play at the next level, that they can earn a degree. We’re gonna have to earn that respect, and it’ll take time.”
Seven seasons into Fox’s tenure, it would be hard to argue that he has proven those opportunities have been firmly established in Athens...and Georgia Basketball is ready to make even greater steps forward.
Winning and playing in the postseason...check.
Georgia has produced four 20-win campaigns under Fox, including back-to-back-to-back efforts over the past three seasons. That marks just the second time in 111 seasons that the Bulldogs have won 20 or more games in three consecutive years. Fox’s four 20-win teams ties him with Hall-of-Famer Hugh Durham, who produced four such squads in his 17 seasons at Georgia.
The Bulldogs have reached postseason competition four times in Fox’s first seven seasons, including a pair of NCAA Tournament bids in 2011 and 2015.
Playing at the next level...check.
Georgia has produced three NBA Draft picks under Fox, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the No. 8 overall pick in 2013 by the Detroit Pistons and today a rising star in the league. Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins both were second-round selections in 2011.
All told, more than 15 of Mark Fox’s Bulldogs have gone on to play professionally.
Earning a degree...check.
Under Fox, 27 members of the Georgia Basketball family have graduated from the University of Georgia. That includes 23 of Fox’s own players – current Bulldogs Houston Kessler and Juwan Parker and 21 letterwinners – as well as four more former standouts – NBA players Jarvis Hayes and Damien Wilkins, 2004 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Rashad Wright and Adrian Jones – who have returned to campus to secure degrees.
Now that the foundation Fox addressed back in the spring of 2009 has been established, he and his staff are setting their sights on even greater heights.
“We’ve done a lot of things that we thought we could do,” Fox said. “And we’ve had a lot of help to get here. Our fan base has been terrific. These kids have committed to a certain way of functioning. We felt like we could graduate players. We felt like we could win. We felt like we could do those things consistently. We think we’ve made progress, but we think there’s more that we can do. It’s going to take everyone’s effort to get there.”
Summarizing the first seven seasons with the Bulldogs
Fox hit the ground running upon arriving in Athens and produced immediate signs that the Bulldogs were headed in the right direction. In his first season, amid low expectations, Georgia toppled three top-25 opponents and nearly knocked off several more. The Bulldogs also led the SEC in key benchmarks such as free throw percentage, field goal percentage and assists.
The following winter, Fox guided the Georgia program to its first 20-win season in nine years. The Bulldogs also earned their way into the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first at-large bid in nine seasons. The 2011 Bulldogs were so successful that they caused one of the roller-coaster moments of Georgia Basketball that Fox is eager to eliminate. Both Leslie and Thompkins departed early for the NBA Draft, a blow that Fox readily admits the program was not ready to endure.
The next two winters both produced 15-17 records; however, the latter also provided a key indicator that the Bulldogs’ were progressing when Georgia compiled a 9-9 record in SEC play.
The 2013-14 Bulldogs made history when they tied for second place in the final league standings, a milestone accomplished by just three other Georgia teams in 82 years of SEC play.
The following winter, the Bulldogs secured an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament before losing to Michigan State, 70-63, in the opening-round matchup. That contest looked like a regular 7-seed versus 10-seed game until the Spartans used three more single-digit victories to advance to the Final Four.
Most recently, Georgia produced its third straight 20-win campaign – just the second time in 111 seasons the Bulldogs have done so – and the Bulldogs posted a double-digit victory tally in SEC play for the third consecutive season – a first for UGA since the league’s inception in 1932.
A long history of winning basketball
Fox producing such success should come as no surprise. Over the past two decades, teams Fox has coached have earned 14 postseason bids – seven NCAA Tournament, four NIT and two CBI – produced four 25-win seasons and 11 20-win results.
Fox began his coaching career as a graduate assistant coach and then as a full-time assistant under Lynn Nance at Washington (1991-93). Perhaps the most significant happenstance during his time in Seattle took place off the court. He became fast friends with fellow assistant Trent Johnson, who later introduced Fox to a co-worker in the Huskies’ promotions department named Cindy Holt. The two were married four years later.
After his two-year stint at Washington, Fox completed another important step in his coaching career. He spent the1993-94 season finishing his master’s degree at Kansas. During his spare time he was a close and constant observer of then-KU coach Roy Williams and the Jayhawks.
Fox then spent six seasons (1994-2000) as an assistant coach under Tom Asbury at Kansas State. While at KSU, the Wildcats earned an NCAA Tournament invitation in 1996 and two appearances in the National Invitation Tournament (1998 and 1999).
Fox left Manhattan to join Johnson, his friend from UW days, for what yielded a successful nine-season stint at Nevada. Fox’s first four came as the Wolf Pack’s associate head coach, including a run to the 2004 NCAA “Sweet 16” for the first time in school history.
When Johnson left Nevada for Stanford, Fox assumed the lead chair, and the program kept its torrid pace. Fox enjoyed one of the most successful starts to a coaching career in Division I men’s basketball history, headlined by establishing what was then a record for best winning percentage in a coach’s first three seasons (81-18=.818). Nevada won at least 21 games and reached postseason play in each of Fox’s five seasons as head coach, won or shared four straight Western Athletic Conference titles and played in three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Finding talent and maximizing it
Throughout his coaching career, Fox developed a reputation as a strong recruiter who then helped those players reach their fullest potential.
Fox signed and coached numerous players who earned all-conference honors in the Big 12, Pac-10, WAC and SEC. Foremost among his Nevada signees was three-time WAC Player of the Year and All-American Nick Fazekas. Fox also played key roles in bringing NBA first-round draft pick Kirk Snyder to the program, as well as prep All-American Luke Babbit. In Athens, Fox added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, UGA’s first McDonald’s All-American in almost 20 years, who was 2013 SEC Player of the Year and the No. 8 overall pick of the NBA Draft that spring.
In February of 2012, the website RealGM.com ranked Fox first nationally among all college coaches in player development, adding that he “has truly been fantastic at getting the most out of his players.” A prime example is former Nevada guard Ramon Sessions, lightly recruited out of high school but who has quietly put together a solid career in the NBA.
Respected as a “good of the game” coach
Fox’s coaching path hasn’t been limited to the significance of wins and losses. He also has developed a well-earn respect of his counterparts as someone who has the best interest of college athletics and the game of basketball driving his decision-making process.
So much so that Fox is a member of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee, which directs rules changes for the sport, and the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Ethics Coalition, which is charged “to promote ethical conduct among NCAA Division I I men’s basketball coaches through education, leadership and mentoring.”
Fox is the only Division I coach currenlty serving on both bodies.
A lifelong calling
Coaching has been Fox’s aspiration for as long as he can recall. All along his career path in this chosen sport, he has drawn inspiration from countless places and people. Ironically, some of his most valuable nuggets of wisdom have come from coaches outside of basketball. He includes noted collegiate volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin (USC, Washington, Kansas State and Notre Dame) as well as football coaches Don James (Washington) and Bill Snyder (Kansas State) among his professional role models.
Fox played college basketball at Garden City (Kan.) Community College (1987-89) under former Nevada head coach Jim Carey and then lettered two seasons at Eastern New Mexico (1989-91) in Portales, N.M., where he was a first-team Academic All-Lone Star Conference selection in 1991.
He graduated magna cum laude with his bachelor’s in Physical Education from Eastern New Mexico in 1991 and obtained a master’s of science degree in Athletic Administration and Sports Psychology from Kansas in 1996.
Fox and his wife, Cindy, have two children: a son, Parker (16), and a daughter, Olivia (14).
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