Fox hoping to follow in Durham’s footsteps
by Jeff Dantzler
Mark Fox has done an outstanding job in his short tenure
at the helm of the University of Georgia men’s basketball program.
In just his second year, the Bulldogs are in prime shape
to close the campaign strong and earn a berth to the NCAA Basketball
Tournament. Heart-breaking, buzzer-beating home
losses to Tennessee and Florida will likely deny the Dogs a shot
at the Southeastern Conference championship here in 2011, but
Georgia is definitely one of the league’s strongest teams and the
pieces are in place for a run in March.
Hands down, this is Georgia’s best team since the 2003
squad that did not get to participate in the postseason. There was
the incredible, improbable SEC Tournament Championship of
2008, led by Sundiata Gaines and Dave Bliss. But since ’03, unfortunately
the program had gone through more tough times
In Fox, the Bulldogs have another outstanding coach, and
with the tremendous facility upgrades and facelifts, Georgia has
the capability to effectively recruit the talent-rich Peach State and
consistently be in the upper division of the SEC sniffing Big
And that should always be the goal of the program.
Georgia has been blessed with great coaches before, three
in particular in the modern era – Jim Harrick, Tubby Smith and
Hugh Durham – the father of Georgia basketball.
Before Durham’s arrival, the Bulldogs program suffered losing
records in an astonishing 23 of the previous 27 seasons.
Within two years, led by the Human Highlight Reel Dominique
Wilkins, Georgia made it to the postseason for the first time in
history. In Durham’s fifth season, the Bulldogs, in the program’s
first ever NCAA Tournament trip, advanced to the Final Four
with unforgettable victories over Virginia Commonwealth, St.
John’s (coached by Lou Carnasecca and starring Chris Mullin)
and North Carolina (coached by Dean Smith and starring
Michael Jordan and Sam “I don’t even know what league Georgia’s
The Bulldogs accomplishment was even more amazing, as
Wilkins had left school early and was the second pick in the
Durham had a highly successful stint at Florida State prior
to his arrival in Athens, highlighted by his great Seminole squad
of 1972. During John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty of 10 national
titles in 12 seasons between 1964 and 1975, the Bruins made
easy work of all of their opponents in the NCAA Championship
Game. With one exception. Durham’s Seminoles fell by only
five, giving UCLA its toughest title tilt challenge.
To make it to the ’72 finals, Durham’s Seminoles won the
Regional Final over Kentucky in Adolph Rupp’s final game as
the Wildcats head coach. At the Final Four in the national semifinals,
Durham’s Seminoles topped Smith’s Tar Heels to make it
to the final.
He’s the only coach in history to face Rupp, Smith and
Wooden in three successive games, and he did it in the dance.
And he had a winning record!
“2-1, against those three,” Durham once told me in a
chuckle with his brilliant wry humor. “That’s not bad is it?”
His success at Georgia and Florida State was unprecedented.
Durham became the first coach to both win 200 games
at two schools and take both universities to Final Four’s.
Under Durham’s watch, Georgia was regularly in the upper
division of the SEC and fighting for NCAA Tournament appearances.
In 1990, Durham guided the Bulldogs to the school’s first
and still only outright Southeastern Conference championship.
The star of that unforgettable squad, the late Alec Kessler, was All-
American, and Academic All-American – and to this day remains
one of the most accomplished and decorated student-athletes
in NCAA annals.
That 1983 season, behind James Banks, Terry Fair, Vern
Fleming, Lamar Heard, Gerald Crosby, Richard Corhen, Derrick
Floyd and a host of other key pieces that lead the Dogs to
the Final Four and SEC Tournament Championship, remains
the high point of Georgia basketball.
It’s the mountaintop to which Fox strives to return.
Fox has a great relationship with both Durham and Harrick.
That’s so important in bringing back alumni and former
players from the grandest days of the program. While the Dogs
were struggling in Fox’s first year, he called Durham and said, “we
just don’t have any shooters.” To which Durham quipped, “if
Georgia had shooters, you wouldn’t have the job.”
It was a joy to listen to Durham’s call-in shows. He could
win any argument and always had the big picture in sight.
Back to shooters.
Asked once if his team needed some?
“I got shooters, I need makers.”