Basketball never the big show at Georgia

sports@macon.comDecember 18, 2012 

Georgia basketball has often been compared to Kentucky football. It will never be the dominant sport on campus, regardless of how much success it might have from time to time.

The problem is, Georgia basketball isn’t having much success at all these days, and you have to wonder if anyone really cares.

How bad would it have to get for UGA fans to really be concerned about the basketball program? Would it have to be embarrassing enough to where even casual fans asked, “How can that program be that bad?”

It might be close to being that bad right now.

Mark Fox is in his fourth year as the Bulldogs’ head coach. If you ask anyone, they’ll tell you he’s a good coach. But you are what your record says you are, and Fox is 53-53 in his three-plus years in Athens.

Fox had a chance at success at UGA, but when Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie made a mistake and left for the NBA two years ago, Fox had to rebuild. The rebuilding project has not gone well. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a nice player, but he’s about all Fox has on the roster.

Fox replaced a man who was just as mediocre. Dennis Felton was 84-91 in his six years as Georgia’s head coach. So in the past 10 seasons, Georgia’s basketball team has a record of 137 wins and 144 losses.

Truthfully, Georgia basketball lost me when Tubby Smith left for Kentucky and Ron Jirsa took over. Jirsa was a disaster, and then he was replaced by Jim Harrick, who cheated and got the program placed on NCAA probation.

The best basketball coach of all time for Georgia was the great Hugh Durham, who was there for 17 years and went 298-216 between 1978 and 1995. Former athletics director Vince Dooley fired Durham. The team had gone 18-10, but many believed it had simply hit a wall under Durham after four years of not making it to the NCAA tournament and he was let go.

Durham was the head coach when I was in school at Georgia, and basketball was relevant. The teams weren’t great, but students went to the games. We stood in line for tickets and made a point to go to the Coliseum every time they were home.

They had players like Litterial Green, Kendall Rhine and Charles Claxton. Before that, in the late 1980s, Georgia had Alec Kessler. Earlier that decade, the Bulldogs had Macon’s Terry Fair, Vern Fleming and Dominique Wilkins.

Durham had only two losing seasons in Athens, and one of those years he was 15-16 and the other season the Bulldogs were 14-16. He led Georgia to five NCAA appearances and had four trips to the NIT.

It was tough when Durham left, since many people thought he probably did about as well as anyone could as the Georgia basketball coach. But then Dooley hit a home run when he brought in Smith, who was great. Smith bonded well with the Georgia fan base, and he probably could still been the head coach at UGA today if he had not left after two years for greener pastures at Kentucky.

And, really, the Georgia program hasn’t been the same since.

There is too much talent in this state for this program to be this irrelevant. Some say there is enough talent within the Atlanta perimeter to field a very successful team. It’s unrealistic that Georgia can get all of that talent, but when you see other programs come into the state to steal players and yet see UGA struggle this much, it just doesn’t make much sense.

Some believe Fox has not embraced the AAU programs around the state, particularly in Atlanta. If he fails to do that, he’s going to have a hard time making the Georgia program successful. That’s where the talent is, and even if he doesn’t appreciate it, Fox needs to bite the bullet and get talent from wherever he can get it.

It will be interesting to see how athletics director Greg McGarity reacts to the struggles of this program. Remember, McGarity was at Florida for many years, and Billy Donovan proved you can have a successful basketball program at a football school.

But that just hasn’t happened at Georgia. While some do care, many just shrug their shoulders and know that’s the way it has been for many years with the basketball program. Then they turn around and wonder which football prospects are coming for visits in Athens this weekend. That’s what really matters to Georgia fans.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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