Georgia, Fox begin life after Caldwell-Pope

mlough@macon.comApril 18, 2013 

Georgia basketball adds forward as Caldwell-Pope departs for NBA

Mark Fox can’t replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

After all, one has to go back to Dominique Wilkins for the last time Georgia had a men’s basketball player picked by either the coaches or the media as the SEC’s player of the year.

And while Kenny Paul Geno is no Caldwell-Pope, Fox’s newest player will still have some pressure on him.

Fox, who just completed his fourth season as Georgia’s head coach, likes what he’s getting in Geno.

“He’s an athletic wing man, shoots the 3, can play above the rim,” said Fox on Thursday before taking the stage at UGA Day at the Walnut Creek Shooting Preserve. “He can shoot the ball. I love the fact that he can get way up above the rim, but I like the fact that he can shoot.”

Caldwell-Pope made the beginning of Fox’s week a little depressing with the announcement he was leaving after two seasons to enter the NBA draft.

With him goes 18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2 steals a game. His potential departure, before the announcement, and a knee injury and status of junior forward Marcus Thornton (knee) forced Georgia to tweak its recruiting.

“We anticipated we might lose Kentavious, and we thought Marcus (Thornton) might go back in the junior class,” Fox said of Thornton, who played in nine games before suffering a knee injury. “Until Marcus is healthy, we only have one small forward on the team in Brandon Morris. So we needed a small forward.”

Fox didn’t want to go the junior college route and thus have too many juniors at one time.

Enter Geno, who signed with Georgia on Thursday to be in uniform for 2013-14. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward helped Booneville (Miss.) to an 85-16 record in three years, going 25-6 his senior season.

Geno averaged 23.1 points and 12.5 rebounds and was the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal player of the year, as well as first-team all-state.

Geno isn’t the backcourt threat that Caldwell-Pope does, but Fox expects him to bolster the frontcourt and backcourt.

Geno may be an under-the-radar steal for the Bulldogs.

“If you’re from a small place and you don’t go play on the circuit ... ,” said Fox, who will carry a 65-63 record at Georgia into next season. “There are still guys out there that maybe don’t get the attention that are really good players. He’s gonna be a good player.

“He’s going to be a freshman, he’s going to have to get stronger, like all of them. I think he’s got a real chance.”

Perhaps more important to Fox’s future in Athens is the progression of freshmen guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, as well as forward Morris. The improvement of Mann and Gaines, in particular, is big.

But all three’s growth is huge.

“This summer is the most important summer that Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris, all three of them, this will be the most important summers of their careers,” Fox said. “Much like Kentavious last year, those guys have been thrown in the fire. Now as just sophomores, they’re going to have to play the roles of upperclassmen. There’s just no way around it.”

Fox is also trying to finish perhaps the most important schedule since he has been at Georgia. The Bulldogs again will be young, have lost their go-to scorer, and have finished below .500 in three of Fox’s four seasons.

“With Kentavious’s decision, we’re trying to put games in the right places, make sure we get the right strength of schedule,” said Fox, whose team lost 11 games last season by single digits and three in overtime. “Early (NBA) entries are hard to overcome. They affect your team. It’s just going to affect our team, and we have no choice but to overcome it.

“I think the important thing will be scheduling the games at the time when we can get some confidence and have some of these young guys get some key experience at the right time so we can have the progression to keep building.”

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