NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Fox sat against the wall in a small room at New Orleans Arena on Friday night. His team’s season had just ended.
The Georgia head coach fielded a question that, in paraphrased form, asked if he knew this season would be this much of a struggle.
Fox thought a moment before answering.
“I don’t think it was more frustrating,” he said. “I knew when those guys (Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie) both left we just lost so much. We were just so young and so inexperienced.”
The result was a second losing season in three seasons for Fox at Georgia, sandwiched around an NCAA tournament berth. The one that just finished was always regarded as a transition year, finishing with a 15-17 record and a loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.
“There’s some games that these guys would like to have back, some plays of inexperience that cost them badly,” Fox said, his head pointing at the locker room. “But those are experiences you have to have as part of a process of being a consistent winner.”
That process won’t automatically be better for the fourth year of Fox’s regime, as the team loses two of its top players, guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware.
But Fox is banking on a more experienced group, led by current freshman Kentavious Calwell-Pope, and a deeper team bolstered by three recruits. And possibly one more recruit.
Georgia has one more scholarship available under the NCAA limit, and the Bulldogs would love to use it on Tony Parker, a five-star post player. But Parker is also being chased by national powers, so the Bulldogs are considered longshots.
The post play was a concern all season for Georgia, which was among the SEC’s worst rebounding teams. But the Bulldogs also had one of the lowest-scoring teams in the SEC.
“We’re gonna have to sign some offense,” Fox said. “This team wasn’t very offensive. Largely because just physically -- Kentavious played out of position. Marcus (Thornton) was playing injured. But I think you’re always trying to become as offensive as you can.”
Thornton will have knee surgery early this week after playing through chronic problems since late December. Georgia will be counting on a healthier Thornton, who is 6-foot-7 and would be able to use his athleticism to a better advantage next year.
Donte Williams, the other starting post player, also showed promise as a sophomore. And in spurts, including the first half of Friday’s game, freshman center John Cannon showed he can contribute.
“John Cannon really has practiced great,” Fox said. “We kind of had a rotation set. He’s probably been the one guy that learning the system has been a bit of a challenge for him. I think he’s got a bright future. He’s probably got the best hands on the team.”
But the two freshmen who made the biggest impact were Caldwell-Pope and forward Nemanja Djurisic. The Bulldogs are hoping to move Caldwell-Pope to his natural shooting guard position.
Then there are the three signees -- point guard Charles Mann and wings Brandon Morris and Kenny Gaines. They aren’t considered program-changers, but Fox pointed out that all of their teams made it to a state championship game.
“We’re losing our leaders; we’re losing our core leaders,” Djurisic said. “But I think we learned a lot from them, and I think we’re getting a little confidence, getting some experience with them. And being in a situation like we were this season, having a lot of playing time and stuff, I think we’ll get in good shape.”