Georgia’s season ended not where it expected to be.
Before the season began, the Bulldogs envisioned a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Too many close losses and not enough top-50 wins turned out to be what would keep Georgia out of the big dance for the second consecutive season.
Short-handed without Yante Maten (sprained knee) and Juwan Parker (torn right Achilles), the Bulldogs lost to Belmont in the first round of the NIT Wednesday night. That has Georgia already looking ahead to next season’s group.
Head coach Mark Fox will return for a ninth season. If Maten elects to return for his final year of eligibility, Georgia will bring back nine of its top 10 players. The Bulldogs will lose a lot in guard J.J. Frazier but still give reason for preseason optimism.
But as it is with any level of sustained success, more is always desired.
“I think every year you set out to accomplish certain things,” Fox said. “Sometimes you get most of them. Never do you get all. We had some disappointments this year. We were still able to win 19 games and get in the postseason. But there was more we wanted to do. We fully recognize that.”
In addition to returning players with experience, the Bulldogs are bringing in one of Fox’s better recruiting classes. Top-50 forward Rayshaun Hammonds and top-250 wing man Nicolas Claxton could contribute early. Three-star combo guard Teshaun Hightower will add size in the backcourt at 6-foot-5.
Fox has established Georgia as a program that ends years with winning records. To become a program that reaches that next level, it must continue to recruit well.
Dominique Wilkins, who played at Georgia from 1979-82 and went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career in the NBA, said he has seen Fox’s recruiting efforts improve over time. That gives Wilkins optimism that Fox will soon have Georgia competitive for NCAA Tournament appearances in the near future.
“You want to build a reputation that makes players want to come here,” Wilkins said. “I think that’s what Coach Fox has done.”
Said Fox: “We have some real talented young men coming in here. I think the expectation in our locker room is we will have a very good team next year.”
Considering where Georgia was when Fox took the program over after the Dennis Felton era ended, the Bulldogs are in a much better place. But ultimately, wins and consistently reaching the NCAA Tournament are what a Power 5 basketball coach is judged on.
While Frazier played in three NITs and one NCAA Tournament during his four years at Georgia, he feels Fox has Georgia headed in the right direction and that a next step will soon occur.
“Since I got here, we’ve improved,” Frazier said. “Like I’ve been saying from the jump, Coach Fox has done a great job helping us improve every year – not just as basketball players but as men. I think we’re going in the right direction. We have a lot of talent coming back. We have a lot of great talent coming in. It’s going to be a joy to come back and watch my guys and former teammates play.”
Georgia will miss Frazier’s leadership, along with his 18.8 points per game.
Guard Tyree Crump said he knows he will need to step up with Frazier graduating. Following the NIT loss to Belmont, Crump seemed solemn about the year coming to a disappointing end. At the same time, he knows it will be partly be on his shoulders to get Georgia over the hump and back to the postseason tournament it prefers to be in.
“For me, I know I have to play a bigger role next year,” Crump said. “I’ll take this in and work as hard as I can on my game and try to help us get to the NCAA Tournament.”