ATHENS - Mark Fox caused a stir, and drew plenty of snickers, a few weeks ago. Georgia's head coach has a vote in the USA Today men's basketball coaches poll, and Fox voted his own team No. 25, a seemingly laughable notion for a team picked to finish 11th in its own conference.
But Fox defended it firmly on Monday night, even after his team struggled at times to get past Division II UNC-Pembroke, 81-69, in an exhibition game.
"I believe in our team. I believe in our team. And until we lose, I'll vote for them every week," Fox said.
Fox was asked if he voted for his team for any particular reason. (Such as motivational.)
"Because I believe in my team," Fox said. "I mean everybody else votes because of some school's tradition. OK. I see my team every day, I'm not voting because of somebody's tradition. We're trying to build one, but I believe in my team, so I voted for my team because I think they have a chance to be a good basketball team. That's why I did it."
And he's done that before, Fox added.
Georgia is coming off a 15-17 season and lost its top player, SEC player of the year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was an NBA lottery pick. In a media preseason vote, the Bulldogs were picked to finish ahead of only three other teams: South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn.
But Fox also told his team privately, during a practice, that he voted for them because he thought they could live up to it.
"He just told us he believed in us. Maybe he wondered if we believed in ourselves," said sophomore guard Kenny Gaines, who scored 15 points in Monday's exhibition game. "I wouldn't say it adds pressure, but it does add a goal as a team, to try to meet what he set. So I feel that's a positive part."
"We have the talent. We have the pieces," said sophomore point guard Charles Mann, who had a team-high 18 points on Monday night. "We're gonna work hard to just try to prove everybody wrong."