Mark Fox’s final meeting with his team involved direct conversation with younger players who are set to undergo a coaching transition.
In his nine years with the program, Fox had a core focus on the success of his athletes outside of basketball, and the motive prior to departing from the program was no different.
“I told them that no one should transfer,” Fox said. “No one on our team has an issue as we leave, and they shouldn’t create issues for the new coach when he comes in. I talked to them about finishing their educations and how hard they’re going to need to work and I still believe in them. I had a very honest conversation about how I will always expect to function, and we were direct about life.”
Aside from the three seniors, Yante Maten, Juwan Parker and Pape Diatta, each of the returning Bulldogs will have the opportunity to make that choice after a new coaching hire is announced. It is also unknown as to whether Jonas Hayes or Phillip Pearson, Fox’s assistants, would be retained.
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Fox and his staff will also have conversations with Amanze Ngumezi and JoJo Toppin, the 2018 signees who come from within the state. Due to the coaching uncertainty, Georgia recently lost a pledge from five-star point guard Ashton Hagans and Elias King serves as the lone commitment for 2019.
Ngumezi and Toppin would likely have the opportunity to opt out of their letter-of-intent due to Fox’s firing, so a waiting process now begins.
“I’m just taking it in,” said Ngumezi, who had repeatedly displayed excitement to join the program after building a strong rapport with Fox and Hayes. “Now, I’m just waiting to see what’s going to happen.”
Georgia finished 18-15 prior to Fox’s dismissal, and the freshman class earned significant minutes. Rayshaun Hammonds, a former top-50 national recruit, averaged 24.2 minutes and earned the most starts by a first-year player since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the 2011-12 season.
Nic Claxton was a mainstay in the rotation and point guard Teshaun Hightower came on as one of the Bulldogs’ leading contributors towards the end of the season. Fox holds his latest group of newcomers as “tremendous” and praised its potential.
“I’m not trying to put pressure on those kids but obviously when the freshmen end up taking more and more minutes throughout the year, it’s obvious the talent level is what it is,” Fox said. “I think they can take it to great places. They’ll obviously have to work the right way and make the right kind of progress. But I think there are terrific young players within the team.”
While Fox gives guidance to his former players who will soon be introduced to a new head coach, he also spoke fondly of the memories made with players on his current roster and those of the past. Many of his biggest contributors, including former forward Nemanja Djurisic, took to social media to thank Fox for his efforts as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
It was with that group he had the fondest memory of his tenure. The Bulldogs beat a ranked Missouri team 70-64 on Jan. 9, 2014, just days after Fox’s father had passed. Fox has a desire to return back to coaching and has already received a few calls from programs.
The memories and the life-based conversations may be what he longs for the most.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have some great, great people come through here over the past nine years,” Fox said. “I’ve been blessed to have some great experiences with them and we’ll have relationships for a lifetime. I want to thank the efforts those kids gave us.”