Fox wants Georgia players to focus on Vandy, not his future
Mark Fox doesn’t want his players to be worried about his future as Georgia’s coach as they prepare for the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Following a disappointing regular season, the Bulldogs are left with the tournament as their last chance for success — and perhaps a final opportunity for Fox to save his job.
Georgia (16-14, 7-11 SEC) will play Vanderbilt (12-19, 6-12) in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night in St. Louis.
Fox said Monday he doesn’t want his players to feel the burden of playing to protect his job.
“Really all we’re doing, in fairness to our players, we’re just trying to get them to win the next game,” Fox said. “This is about their season. I think that anything more than that would be undue pressure for them and unfair pressure for them.”
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity won’t publicly assess Fox and the season until after the tournament.
“Season not over,” McGarity wrote Monday in an email response to The Associated Press when asked about Fox.
The Bulldogs, the No. 12 seed, were not expected to be one of four teams playing on the first day of the tournament. The decision by top scorer Yante Maten to return for his senior season boosted hopes Georgia would return to the NCAA Tournament this year. Two three-game losing streaks in the SEC schedule turned up the heat on Fox.
Fox said he is confident his players will recover emotionally from losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee by a combined six points to end the regular season.
“Emotionally, obviously two very, very hard-fought tough losses last week,” Fox said. “In this league that can come with the territory. I think our group has been fairly resilient and been able to usually regroup and saddle back up and our hope and our expectation is they’ll do the same thing again.”
Maten was given what Fox described as “a significant shot” to his jaw in Saturday’s 66-61 loss at Tennessee to close the regular season. Maten required medical attention after the game.
Fox said Maten, who leads the SEC with 19.4 points per game and ranks second with his average of 8.8 rebounds, is expected to play on Wednesday.
“He’ll have a couple days here to recover, which he probably needed,” Fox said.
Maten is Georgia’s only scorer in double figures for the season.
The Bulldogs struggled to replace last year’s leader, point guard J.J. Frazier, and ranked last in the league with a minus-3.4 turnover margin.
Frazier was a senior last season, so his departure was no surprise. Fox could be hurt by his late-season acknowledgement that he was still trying to replace Frazier and find stability for the backcourt.
There were highlights this season. Georgia was 3-4 against Top 25 teams, including a win over then-No. 18 Tennessee on Feb. 17.
There were encouraging signs for the future. Freshman forward Rayshaun Hammond started 23 games while two more freshmen, forward Nicolas Claxton and guard Teshaun Hightower, were part-time starters.
Fox had the nation’s top-ranked class of commitments for 2019, as compiled by 247Sports, before a five-star prospect, point guard Ashton Hagans from Covington, Georgia, recently pulled back his verbal commitment. Uncertainty about Fox’s future at Georgia could have affected Hagans’ choice.
Georgia’s NCAA hopes were hurt by three straight losses to open February, including an 81-66 loss at Vanderbilt .
The Georgia-Vanderbilt winner will play No. 5 seed Missouri on Thursday.
“We’re going to do our best to try and get Georgia a win and if we can do that then we’ll try to do the same thing on Thursday,” Fox said. “That’s really the honest way we’re approaching it.”
Fox is 161-132 at Georgia.
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