Yasir, Yante and the fire-eater

semerson@macon.comMay 20, 2014 

Head coach Mark Fox in post game interview after winning Georgia's game against Vermont in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament on March 19.

JOHN KELLEY — John Kelley / UGA Sports Communi

As Mark Fox has done the fan speaking tour this spring, he keeps talking about a guy named Yasir, a guy named Yante, and a guy who can down Tabasco sauce like it’s water.

This has been a spring of seeming improvement for the Georgia men’s basketball program. It added two much-needed post players, including one good enough to start right away, then also hired a new assistant coach with a reputation for recruiting.

Fox, armed with a contract extension to continue as head coach, has four returning starters from a team that won 20 games. But fans have been just as eager to hear about the new blood in the program.

Yasir Rosemond was hired earlier this month as the team’s newest assistant coach. Fox told UGA fans in Augusta this week he was “very excited” about Rosemond’s connections in the “Nike family” as well as in his native Atlanta.

Rosemond actually attended the same high school (Douglass) as Jonas Hayes, the former Georgia player who was elevated to a full-time assistant job last year.

“I’ve got two native Atlanta guys on my staff now,” Fox said. “I think it’s healthy to have some change.”

The Atlanta connection is something that critics – fans and some media – have pointed to as a failing of Fox’s staff. That ignores that top assistant Philip Pearson, who has been with the team since Fox was hired in 2009, has extensive experience recruiting the area. It also overlooks that the Bulldogs started five Atlanta-area products this year.

“We started five guys from metro Atlanta. So I think we’ve made a lot of progress there,” Fox said. “I think it’s always important, because there’s always gonna be players there. But I think it’s just part of the equation. It can’t be the whole thing.”

Georgia’s most important recruit this year had no connection to the area: Yante Maten was the Michigan Gatorade player of the year, and chose the Bulldogs over Michigan State and Indiana.

A post player, Maten could slide right into the role vacated by Donte’ Williams, the lone senior on last year’s team.

“Marcus (Thornton) is going to be the most effective post presence just because of his body and his experience, obviously. Nemi (Djurisic) with his experience will have an advantage on most of those guys,” Fox said. “But Yante just in natural ability is just gonna be a guy that competes right out of the gate.”

Then there’s the fire-eating recruit.

Well, fire sauce-eating.

Osahen Iduwe hails from Nigera, and has only been playing basketball for about four years. He also grew up eating very spicy foods, as he told Fox during his recruiting visit.

Fox has told the following story at several stops on the UGA Day tour this spring: “I asked him how the food was in Nigeria, and he said: ‘Oh very spicy, very spicy.’ So I got up and walked over to the waitress stand and I got a bottle of Tabasco sauce, and I sat it in front of him and said, This is hot sauce, you can put this on your eggs or whatever and it makes your food more spicy.

“He says: ‘Coach I drink that.’ I said, ‘No, you shake it on your food and it makes it hotter.’ And he said, ‘No I drink it.’ No, no, don’t drink it.”

And Iduwe proceeded to pick up the Tabasco sauce and down it.

“And he never touched his water. He just went back to eating his food. It didn’t effect him at all,” Fox said. “So I kind of leaned over to my assistant and said: We might want to sign this guy, he’s kinda tough.”

That last scholarship

Georgia has one more scholarship remaining for this year, but it will not be going to Robert Carter, the Georgia Tech transfer. The Bulldogs were interested in re-recruiting him – they were a finalist two years ago when Carter was in high school – but the Yellow Jackets denied permission to contact.

Fox said he didn't talk to Brian Gregory, his counterpart at Georgia Tech. The discussions were between the athletics directors. Fox chose his words carefully, declining to get into a verbal tussle over the issue.

"They just have a different philosophy than we do," Fox said. "Is it disappointing? I don't know that I wouldn't go that far. I'm gonna say it's a difference of opinion. We have a different philosophy, obviously."

But Fox said there's still a chance they could use the final scholarship.

"I signed Ramon Sessions at Nevada 10 days before school started, and the guy was drafted after three years," Fox said. "I would say we will be actively searching for the right guy. Because you never know what could happen. There could be something that comes up later in the summer. So I wouldn't rule it totally out that we'll use it."

One more big game?

Meanwhile, Fox indicated that the team is working on trying to get a high-profile game to open next season. Nothing is close to finalized, and he wouldn't say who the proposed opponent is or whether it's at home or not.

"We'd like to have a great opener," Fox said. "But no progress."

If Georgia did schedule such a game, it would be added to a schedule that already includes Kansas State, Colorado and Mercer - each of whom made the NCAA tournament last year - as well as Seton Hall and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs are also in the Preseason NIT, which could see them face Minnesota, St. John's or Gonzaga in the final two games.

"Our whole league's trying to schedule up," Fox said. "You can't win big games unless you schedule them. I'm not sure if we can get it all done or not, but we'll see."

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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