the man of the copius commentary is often at a loss for words on the roundball, so I'll try and put together a season in review for the men's hoops squad from 2009-2010, aka first season of the Fox Hounds.
Coach Mark Fox and his scintilating staff have done a remarkable job in a short time frame. While not wanting to harp on the former staff, the current crop of coaches had an immense task before them upon walking into the job. They needed to reteach a lot of offensive and overall basketball fundamentals, and along with that implement a very different style of play both offensively and defensively. They had big work to do in alumni and fan relations, which suffered amidst a fractured fan base throughout the previous staff's tenure in Athens. Then there was the all important recruiting, which is the lifeblood of any college athletics program. Relations needed to be repaired with local AAU outfits (or in some cases actually established for Fox and assistant Kwanza Johnson who had never previously resided in Dixe), and with the NCAA's new restrictions eliminating an early spring evaluation period, improving those relations and perusing for prospects became a much more daunting task. Suffice it to say, there were a ton of issues to address by this staff and they appear to have addresses most, if not all, in fine fashion.
The schedule faced was also quite daunting, and a step up from recent slates. In conference, Florida got a new crop of talent. Darrin Horn continued to build over in the Palmetto State, although injuries derailed his second season. Bruce Pearl and Kevin Stallings continued their successful stints to our north. While the big news was obviously Calipari in Kentucky, creating an unholy union of tradition, recruiting prowess, and a thin film of slime that culminated in a bevy of NBA talent in the Bluegrass the likes of which hasn't been seen since the last time they were led by a slick haired gentleman possessing a vowel at the end of their last name. Then there were out of conference contests with Illinois, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, St. Louis, UAB, and other quality opponents constituting what some considered the nation's 20th most difficult schedule. All with a roster that left a bit to be desired athletically, depth wise, inside and outside.
Now for individual player assessments, in alphabetical order.
Ebuka Anyaorah: A long wing player who redshirted last year to heal a broken leg. Showed promise in his first season as a potential defender, ball handler, and even hit some outside shots in spite of a hideously ugly shooting stroke. Garnered inconsistent minutes, but showed he could be a contributor at this level, especially with a strong summer developing his game.
Chris Barnes: Bounced in and out of the starting lineup also receiving inconsistent action. Not much of a threat offensively, but capable of producing on the glass and defensively. Would have liked to have seen more progression in his game, but then he likely is what he is--an undersized, wide shouldered C who can be an effective part of the rotation but shouldn't be relied on as a prime contributor.
Matt Bucklin: Walk-on who got 6 minutes total this year. Deserves thanks for the effort in practice though.
Albert Jackson: An injury limited his minutes early, but got more later on including several starts. Like Barnes, he kind of is what he is, a big man who can be effective in a rotation as a rebounder and defensive post, but lacks offensive abilities and will never become a prime contributor. Considering the hype he had upon arrival under the previous staff, the departing senior had a disappointing career. But then it's not his fault for all the hype they dished out on a guy lacking fingers.
Travis Leslie: If there were such an award, would be hands down winner for SEC's Most Improved Player, if not the national version of this imaginary honor. Suspended late last season for academic reasons, there was a feeling he'd join the least of countless premature departures from the former staff's signees. But he picked things up in the classroom, and turned in a season that has him getting mentioned among future millionaires as a possible NBA lottery pick next summer. The previous staff hailed him as the best dunker to don Red and Black since Dominique, and he lived up to that billing this year. But while he had an array of Sportscenter worthy highlights throughout the year, the newest Elevator from Decatur (all due respect to Herb White) improved immensely as an offensive weapon and complete player to show he was more than just a dunker. As a future NBA SG, he still has a lot of work to do in ball handling, shooting, and court awareness, but if he can make similar strides this off season as he did in the last, we are talking about a very special player. He carried this team at several times throughout the year, and a lot will be expected from him if he returns (which he has said publically he intends to do).
Demario Mayfield: Received the fewest minutes of all players on scholarship. Wide shouldered G who had his flashes of potential, particularly in 4 minutes vs. Florida, but if his lack of playing time is any indication on a team that was in dire need of bench production, he will have a lot of work to do this summer if he wants to work into the rotation next year.
Ricky McPhee: An undersized SG who walked on and flourished under Fox. Logged the most minutes of anyone on the team this year, and some even gave him the nickname "Rick Ross" for his everyday hustlin'. Was the team's primary perimeter shooter, secondary ball handler, and considering his physical limitations a very stout defender. A tough season would have been much, much worse without McThree on the floor.
Jeremy Price: Started 4 games, but probably saw more total minutes at C compared to regular starters Barnes and Jackson. A superior offensive weapon to those two, Price hit double digit scoring in 9 games this year, but failed to hit double figures in rebounds in a single one. He, along with Leslie, was seemingly well on his way out the door when last year ended, so to see him bounce back from a disappointing sophomore slate was a big boost. A rising senior, Price will likely enter next season as the starting C splitting time with Barnes, especially if he can make strides defensively and on the glass. While his offensive abilities are nice, he needs to improve on the other end of the floor in addition to reducing a penchant for turning the ball over.
Trey Thompkins: First team All-SEC. A dynamic scorer who can hit from outside or do work inside, plus had 4 games with 15 or more rebounds. Like Price, cutting back on turnovers would provide a big benefit (as would improved passing out of double teams), but when you are the primary weapon offensively turnovers are just something that comes with the territory. When he struggled, so did the team, but considering the overall depth that is understandable with this team. Plus he played great on a lot more nights than he struggled, and carried this team along with Leslie on multiple evenings. Could be an NBA draft pick, but those in Bulldawg Country are hoping he comes back to be a part of something special, make an NCAA push, and just get a bit stronger to possibly join Leslie in the NBA draft lottery.
Dustin Ware: A lightning rod for fans. Some point to his amazingly small number of turnovers, sound running of the offense, and big 3s as to why he's a critical part of this year's so-called success. Others point to his small frame, lack of quickness compared to others of similar size, inconsistent scoring (9 games with 5 or fewer points), lack of steals (30 in 31 games) and assists (just 3.4 per game), and a couple of missed FTs at crucial late game moments as to why he was one of those holding this team back from even greater success. We'll probably get a better idea of Ware pro vs. con in year 3 as his teammates get a better understanding of the system, we can develop better depth in the backcourt, and add a bigger offensive threat alongside him in the form of a transfer from Tennessee St (addressed later).
Tyler Whatley: Walk on who got 11 total minutes this year. Thanks for the practice effort.
Vincent Williams: Like the other freshman Gs, saw inconsistent minutes to match his inconsistent production. Showed some ability to penetrate and good quickness, but his shooting (under 25% for the year), and turnovers (averaged better than 1 every 10 minutes played) means he has a LOT of work to do before next year. He was a very late addition last spring, but can hopefully make big strides this summer to give Ware a strong backup.
Drazen Zlovaric: Came to town with the reputation of an outside shooting threat, and proceeded to hit as many 3 balls as I did this year. Zlovaric needs a lot of work both physically and as a player to become a consistent contributor next season. We could really use a quality F to backup Leslie and Thompkins, so his development over the next few months could be critical to achieve the level of success of which the team is capable.
redshirting transfers Connor Nolte and Gerald Robinson, Jr: I'll put these two together because they are unknown on the floor to an extent, but like Bucklin, Whatley, and others were a huge part of practice (Yes, I'm talking about practice). Nolte, besides offering a great blog with some amazing shots, is a potential bigger McPhee (at least in our dreams he is). He showed decent range (70 3s made in 60 games at 35%) and game (3.5 rebounds per in around 20 minutes a night) in two years at Furman, but that jump up in competition is a big one. How much he ultimately contributes will be answered going forward, but Robinson will definitely see a significant role. A dynamic scorer at Tennessee St (where his father is tennis coach), the man Mark Fox said could have added several wins to this season's total will be expected to replace McPhee's minutes in the backcourt. What type of player we'll get is anyone's guess. At Tennessee St, he played on the ball a lot, and was an effective slasher. He hit 3s, but his % was low. His redshirt year could have seen him refine his stroke from the outside, and Fox's offense relies much more on passing and movement than dribble penetration. He averaged almost 2 steals per game over 2 years for the Tigers out of Nashville, so he could definitely help with creating more pressure on the perimeter defensively. He has as much buzz about him as any transfer since the Hayes' twins, and if he can be as successful as they were, the fan base will be quite satisfied.
Should Trey and Travis return, plus the addition of Robinson to Ware, Price and Barnes in the supporting cast, and a year for these guys learning Fox's style of play and what he expects from his players, the 2010/2011 Fox Hounds could have us playing in this thing the call The Big Dance in 367 or 368 days. Orlando area big man Cady Lalanne is said to possess a nice combination of size and skill, while the staff is reportedly hoping for at least one more, if not two more additions this spring. The next few months should be an extremely active time for Georgia men's hoops recruiting, and now would be a great time to invest in season tickets and this program as a whole before interest explodes going forward.