THE TEN AT 10:
1. Until now, Mark Hocke has been somewhat of a mystery not only for fans of the Georgia Bulldogs, but for the players as well. The new strength and conditioning coordinator was hired from Alabama over the Christmas break and then quietly worked behind the scenes, watching and observing the previous staff before plotting his plan for Georgia’s offseason conditioning program.
Well, that program kicked into high gear the last couple of weeks and it will be going full speed through the month of February and into March until the Bulldogs finally take to the practice fields for spring ball the middle of next month. And as that program has cranked up, we’re slowly learning a little more about Hocke and his personality.
Hocke was first introduced to fans by Chuck Dowdle and Garrison Smith during the Bulldogs’ live signing day broadcast last Wednesday morning. And now UGA has unveiled a new “Mic’d Up” video essay of Hocke at work as he puts the Bulldogs through their daily paces. Georgia players work out several days a week before dawn at the Butts-Mehre complex.
The most prominent takeaway from those glimpses of the 30-year-old Hocke is that he is clearly a high-energy coach. He explains in the mic’d up video that “bringing the energy” each morning is the first and most important aspect of his job. That attitude is straight out of the manual supplied by Hocke’s mentor.
Hocke came to Georgia after serving for six years as an assistant (and eventually co-associate) to Alabama’s highly-respected strength and conditioning czar Scott Cochran. Cochran is a two-time national strength coach of the year at Alabama and has been on Nick Saban’s staff for all four national titles, including LSU. At Alabama, Hocke was on board for three SEC championships and three national championships.
2. And what about those infamous mat drills? Well, they’re effectively over. However, coach Mark Richt said during his national signing day address that Hocke has replaced them with something similar.
“Mat drills are just a bunch of change-of-direction drills,” Richt said. “It’s just how good you do them and how hard you do them and doing them the right way. So we’re doing something new and I think that the guys are really excited about it and buying into it.”
3. Whatever the Bulldogs are doing under Hocke, they’re definitely feeling it.
“Oh my God, I can barely feel my legs now,” said Natrez Patrick, a freshman linebacker and midyear enrollee from Atlanta. “I barely made it here. But that’s what it takes. We’ve got a goal we want to reach and it’s going to take work to get that goal.”
Part of the signing day routine at Georgia is Richt always brings out the Bulldogs’ midyear enrollees and introduces them publicly for the first time. It’s a nice touch as Richt doesn’t want these new recruits, who have come in over New Year’s, to get overlooked in the craziness and hype that is national signing day.
And Georgia has a bunch of them in this class. Eight, in fact. Only seven were available for interviews last Wednesday as defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker chose to return to his high school to participate in his school’s signing ceremonies. The others were defensive back Johnathan Abram, linebacker Chuks Amaechi, defensive lineman Michael Barnett, linebacker Jake Ganus, tight end Jackson Harris, defensive back Jarvis Wilson and Patrick.
“I feel like I’m getting a head start and everything, but after some workouts I feel like I want to go back to high school,” Patrick, a 4-star prospect from Mays High, said with a laugh. “But seriously, I feel blessed to get the opportunity.”
Check the AJC’s UGA page regularly in the coming days and weeks as I’ll be sharing stories on all these young men.
4. Speaking of recruiting prospects, Roquan Smith is not any closer to making a final decision on where he wants to play college football, according to his coach. The 4-star linebacker from Montezuma spent the weekend hunting, fishing and watching basketball games, according to Macon County athletic director and football Larry Harold.
Harold has told his star player to take as much time as he needs before deciding between Georgia, UCLA, Michigan and Texas A&M. And now, in a very interesting development brought to light by AJC recruiting reporter Michael Carvell, Smith has decided to not sign a letter-of-intent at all.
This is a more prevalent trend in college basketball, but increasingly high-profile college recruits are choosing not to sign an LOI, which legally favors the institutions, and choosing instead to merely sign scholarship papers and thus not being a bound-by-transfer rules member of the team until they enroll in school, usually in June.
By all accounts, this development has not chased off any of Smith’s suitors.
Smith was all set to head to UCLA last Wednesday. He had already signed his letter-of-intent and made a nationally-televised announcement last before learning from UGA coaches that his position coach and lead recruiter with the Bruins, Jeff Ulbrich, was leaving to join the staff of the Atlanta Falcons.
5. Mark Fox this past Saturday recorded his 100th victory as Georgia’s basketball coach with a win over Tennessee. It’s a landmark achievement accomplished by only three other coaches in UGA history – Herman Stegeman, Harbin “Red” Lawson and Hugh Durham.
Lost in the Bulldogs’ success on the basketball court this season is the fact that Fox has yet to sign off on the contract extension he was offered last spring. Athletic Director Greg McGarity and the UGA athletic board decided to add two years to Fox’s deal last April after the Bulldogs’ 20-win season. That means his contract wouldn’t expire until March 31, 2018.
Fox recently acknowledged the fact that he hadn’t signed the agreement yet. He downplayed it, of course, claiming UGA simply got the paperwork to him too close to the start of the season to fool with and that only minute details have kept it from being finalized.
The AJC recently received via an open records request a draft of the newly-amended contract and it would seem to corroborate that there aren’t any glaring differences that should prevent the deal from getting done. The contract is extended two years but Fox’s salary ($1.6 million) is to stay the same. The primary difference is that Fox’s liquidated-damages clause (should he choose to leave), currently set at $2 million, will go away. Conversely, Georgia wouldn’t have to pay him as much if it chose to fire him.
Currently, UGA would have to pay Fox 100 percent of the remaining compensation called for in his contract but, after March 31 of 2016, that is reduced to 25 percent of the total owed. That would be $800,000 in 2017 and $400,000 in 2018.
That’s just like Richt’s contract and in keeping with McGarity’s general philosophy. That is, once a coach gets past his first contract, he has effectively built up equity with the institution and fulfilled the liquidated-damages aspect of the original agreement. McGarity has said before he doesn’t believe UGA should “be an anchor” preventing a coach from leaving nor should it have to pay veteran coaches for entire seasons they don’t coach.
McGarity and Fox both have declined comment on contract details.
6. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were able to get back on the winning track this past Saturday when they dispatched a gritty Tennessee squad 56-53 in Athens. That moves Georgia to 15-7 overall and, at 6-4, keeps it in a tie with LSU for fifth in the SEC. Only Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M stand between the Bulldogs and No. 1-ranked and undefeated Kentucky in the conference standings.
Georgia can further its cause on Wednesday as it gets the Aggies (16-6, 7-3) in College Station. There the Bulldogs will have to deal with one of the hottest players in the league. Danuel House, a 6-foot-7 junior guard, was last week’s SEC player of the week after averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting a blistering 72.7 percent from 3-point range.
“A&M has a very balanced team, obviously,” Fox said. “They’re a great passing team and they have so many different guys who can score the ball. They’re a a very complete team but also great defensively. I think they’re an NCAA tournament team without question.”
7. If they’re to have any success in Texas, the Bulldogs are going to have to play much better on the perimeter, particularly on the wings. Kenny Gaines (5) and Charles Mann (6) continue to play good defense but combined to commit 11 turnovers against Tennessee.
Turnovers have been an issue for Mann all season. The 6-5 junior enters Wednesday’s game with 81 turnovers and 82 assists on the season. He wasn’t available after Saturday’s game because he had to get two stitches in his head, but last week he talked about his struggles this season.
“I’ve been struggling this entire year, or the last half; I know it,” he said. “I’m just not playing as smart or as aggressive right now, not doing as well getting to the line, just making plays. I’ve just got to get back to the old me and just enjoying playing basketball and competing and having fun.”
Mann continues to contribute in so many other ways, particularly defensively and making plays at the ends of games.
“I’m just going to keep trying to do what I’ve got to do to help the team win,” he said. “I’m just here to help get victories.”
8. Remember when the Lady Dogs were undefeated in basketball, like, really late into the year? They got off to a 12-0 start, the fifth-best in school history. Well, coach Andy Landers’ team has another streak going, and it’s not one of the good kind.
The Lady Bulldogs (17-7, 5-6 SEC) lost to Arkansas 54-48 Monday night in Fayetteville, Ark, for their fourth loss in a row. It was Georgia’s seventh defeat in the 12 games since that 12-0 start. In their defense, the Bulldogs are having to play without their best player. Junior guard Shacobia Barbee, Georgia’s leading scorer and best overall player, was lost for the season to a broken leg she suffered early in the Tennessee game on Jan. 25. The Bulldogs have not won since.
Suddenly that sure-fire NCAA bid is not looking so certain. The Lady Bulldogs have earned 31 tournament bids — second-most of any program in the nation – and have appeared in each of the past 20. Georgia will try to get it headed back in the right direction at home Thursday against Florida (11-12, 3-7).
9. Georgia’s amazing run in the ITA National Indoors championship finally came to an end on Monday. The ninth-ranked Lady Bulldogs (6-3) shocked the field by plowing through No. 15 Michigan, No. 1 UCLA and No. 5 California before finally succumbing to No. 3 North Carolina 4-1 in Monday’s finals in Charlottesville, Va.
“I’m super proud of this group and how well they competed and played this week,” coach Jeff Wallace said. “Coming into this tournament as an 8 seed with two losses, I think our performances showed that we’ve grown a lot as a program and as a team.”
Sophomore Caroline Brinson was a workhorse for Georgia, going undefeated in singles throughout the tournament. But the Bulldogs suffered just their second loss of season in doubles and could not score another victory in singles.
10. This & that: Georgia’s Nathan Pasha won his 200th career match as the Bulldogs knocked off Georgia Tech in men’s tennis 4-3 this past Friday in Atlanta. … Georgia junior Manuela Carbajo Ré fired a 2-under 70 in the second round of the Lady Bulldog Individual Championship on Saturday en route to securing medalist honors at the UGA Golf Course. The third annual tournament was a one-day, 36-hole event that kicked off the 2015 calendar portion of Georgia’s season.