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January 2, 2014

UGA Hoops: "Playing the AAU Game"

By Paul Westerdawg

I've seen rhetoric on the message boards that we're losing in basketball because UGA won't let Mark Fox "play the AAU game."  The insinuation is that we're too ethical to win in hoops.  I'm here to tell you that is a rhetorical crutch as asinine as Georgia Tech saying they can't win in football because they don't pay players.

Tech loses in football primarily because they have shitty coaches. When they had George O'Leary, Ralph Freidgen (Super Bowl OC), Bill O'Brien (future Super Bowl OC/HC at PSU), Ted Roof (future MNC DC), David Kelly (lights out recruiter) and Lance Thompson (lights out recruiter), they won games. Yes, they had help academically from their admin, but they also had coaches and talent.  They lose now because they have none of those things.

"Put that coffee down."

UGA is losing now primarily because of Mark Fox's recruiting incompetence.  Not because of our ethics, our academics, or our financial support for basketball.  The idea that we're not "playing the AAU game" is silly given that every kid we have played AAU ball.

We aren't recruiting well because we have a staff full of introverts, a head coach who doesn't pound the pavement and a strategy that doesn't make sense or hang together in a coherent manner.

Mark Fox doesn't know how to close Tier 1 blue chip players.  He has signed one Top 50 player in his entire career and that was KCP.  He never signed one at Nevada, and he's never been on a staff at a high major as an assistant to recruit those kids.  Yet he pursues them early in the signing period and frequently dismisses quality Tier 2 guys because he's trying for Tier 1 guys.  Then because he has pursued guys he had NO CHANCE of signing he has to fall back all the way to Tier 3 and 4 guys at the last minute to fill the roster.

Then he compounds the problem because he takes panic signees. That means he doesn't have the scholarship wiggle room to string a quality Plan B guy along.

In other cases, he has cornered the market on a player no one else was pursuing months ahead of their senior year while more highly thought of guys were ignored.  But let's focus on his inability to avoid coming in third or worse at the last minute.

Lack of Strategy/Self-Awareness in Action
Tony Parker was an elite blue chip big man a few years ago.  Fox wasn't described by Parker as going balls to the wall for his signature until October before the early signing period. At that point, we were behind Kansas, UCLA, Duke, UConn and Memphis.  At that point, Charles Mitchell was still obtainable as a center.

Fox pursued Parker until signing day ultimately coming in 3rd (at best) to UCLA.  Mitchell has started virtually every game of his career at Maryland and at is exactly the type of player the team needs at center.

Strategically, that's a bad use of your time and it shows a lack of self-awareness.  Why were you not going balls to the wall since the kid's freshman year when it was obvious he was a blue chipper?  Why were you trying to overtake Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Memphis, etc after the November signing period?  In what la-la land has UGA started from behind against that group and then made up the ground to finish on top?

The AAU Circuit is Important 
As we've said here previously, Korey McCray has a masters in education from FSU and an undergrad degree from Mercer.  He has ~13 years of coaching experience including six at the Div I level, one year in JUCO, and the rest coaching AAU ball.  He is not some street agent masquerading as an AAU coach with his hand out.  His father is also the founder of one of the top AAU programs in the country (Atlanta Celtics).  He had known the kids we desperately needed since the 7th grade or earlier.  Fox could have had him if he had made it a priority, and our recruiting might be on a different planet.  Instead, he went to UCLA, and now he's at LSU.

Hiring Korey wouldn't have been unethical or dirty.  Heck, Andy Landers hired Tasha Humphries' mom as a coach to secure her signature and arguably save his job. Vince Dooley created a women's track program to sign Herschel Walker's older sister to a scholarship.  You do what it takes within the rules to win.

It's not only Korey that could save us. There are many guys out there with established relationships with the elite AAU programs of this state. Charlton Young is another such person who doesn't work in Athens.

From an SEC recruiting standpoint, Mark Fox is out of his depth.

The fact is that we have at least five kids on the roster right now who aren't high major talents. Those five kids (who's names I'm not going to list in the public domain) would struggle to start for most Southern Conference or Ohio Valley Conference squads. You can't win in the SEC with roughly 40% of your roster being made up of of kids where you were clearly in the wrong living rooms during the recruiting process.

Those kids aren't on the roster because Fox is too ethical.  It's because his approach to bringing talent to the Athens simply isn't working.

See Also:
-- Georgia Basketball Recruiting (from April 2012) - GSB


PS - Fox lost to Davidson earlier this year, and he lost to Youngstown State and Iona last year.  Does Davidson play the AAU game?  Does Youngstown State?


Jerry said...

Great analysis! Hope you will post more frequently. Even with better players, he seems to be a poor game coach. Plays the wrong guys at the wrong time and too many minutes to his "favorites"

Chris said...

I love this post and couldn't agree more. I really wanted Mark Fox to be the long term answer for the men's basketball program but everyday it becomes more and more apparent that he is not.

It doesn't matter how good you are at X's and O's if you can't get good D-1 talent. There's a reason that the Miami Heat compete for an NBA championship every year and it's not because of Eric Spoelstra...

Combine that with an inability to connect with the fanbase (from my perspective, at least) and you have one of the least interesting basketball teams of my lifetime.

ThePetis said...

Great post, PWD. Completely agree with everything Chris has said here.

Mr. Sanchez said...

What I wonder though Paul, is even if we replace Fox with a coach who's willing to hire a McCray or Young among others, do we still have an administration that will turn up their nose and say unacceptable (as the report was about Fox asking for McCray recently but being told he couldn't).

paulwesterdawg said...

I don't think that happened. I was told as of yesterday, he would come back to ATL for the right opportunity. Why would McGarity tell Fox he couldn't hire a college coach from UCLA with a Master's Degree from FSU, 6 years of coaching experience and no history whatsoever of NCAA violations or transgressions.

That's pretty far off McGarity's radar.

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