Flag flap, new coaches dominate SEC basketball discussion

Mark Fox likes the way his team is shaping up for next season. And it's going to need to be strong to stay competitive an increasingly powerful basketball league. (AJC photo)

Mark Fox likes the way his team is shaping up for next season. And it’s going to need to be strong to stay competitive an increasingly powerful basketball league. (AJC photo)

ATHENS — I spent some time earlier today participating in a teleconference call with the SEC men’s basketball coaches and Commissioner Greg Sankey. There was a lot of interesting updates shared therein. I’ll give you a brief rundown here with an obvious emphasis on Georgia and coach Mark Fox.

One of the primary points of discussion was about the new proposal recently drafted that would allow college players to attend an NBA combine before the annual draft and hear directly from pro personnel about whether they believe they’re draft material. If not, they’ll be allowed to return to school.

The primary caveat is these student-athletes would have to be invited to the combine in order to attend, which obviously in and of itself is a strong indication of the NBA’s consideration of their abilities. The proposal was sponsored last Wednesday by the NCAA men’s basketball oversight committee and will be considered for adoption by NCAA membership in January. That means it could be in place for next year’s draft.

SEC coaches, including Georgia’s Fox, generally like the concept.

“I think a lot of that stuff is great in theory,” Fox said. “I would like to see if it all goes forward that you’ve got to give the kid a chance to enter the draft more than one time and withdraw. Right now any student-athlete can only withdraw from the draft one time. If all goes as planned and they create this invite-only combine, … hopefully prospects and student-athletes will listen to the NBA and not all these people on the outside, which can lead to poor decisions. Obviously we’ve had som many guys go out who left school early and either not been drafted or had very, very, very short careers.”

One obvious drawback is for the college programs, who might be left in limbo in terms of scholarship availability for underclassmen who might be on the fence. The Bulldogs have had to deal with the situation several times on Fox’s watch, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins all choosing to make the jump. Leslie and Thompkins are both out of the league bit Caldwell-Pope was the eighth pic and is flourishing.

“We’ve been in this situation several times,” Fox said. “Most of the good players will have decided where they’re going to school by the time we get to the early-entry deadline we have now. Pushing it back another month is not really going to impact the ability to sign a good player. Obviously, it does preclude you when you can’t over-sign by adding a good player. But really it’s best for the student-athletes; it’s not ideal for the programs.”

Some more tidbits of information from Fox and others:

Fox said all four of the Bulldogs’ 2015 signees were successfully admitted into UGA and are attending classes and summer workouts. …

“I’m excited about our team as we get ready for the coming season. Every player will spend time in Athens this summer. We’re just trying to get stronger, get more skilled and get some academic work completed. So far we’ve been very pleased with our approach.”

Fox continues to get asked a lot about 6-5 freshman guard Will “Turtle” Jackson. Now that he has been able to work out Jackson in person, Fox still hasn’t backed off his glowing praise for this versatile athlete …

“Turtle has got a big skill set. He can really shoot the ball, he can break people down on the dribble, he’s got great vision and instincts to pass the basketball. So from an off standpoint we think he can do a lot of things. He’s a guy who can play either spot in the backcourt. So really, from his standpoint, he should be a guy who can contribute right away and make an immediate impact.”

After postseason foot surgery, Kenny Gaines should be back to dunking and posterizing SEC defenders this year. (UGA photo)

After postseason foot surgery, Kenny Gaines should be back to dunking and posterizing SEC defenders this year. (UGA photo)

Both Kenny Gaines (foot, shoulder) and Juwan Parker (heel) are coming off injury-riddled seasons but are slowly making their way back to the court. …

“Kenny Gaines is back to shooting the ball; he has been doing that for a couple of weeks now,” Fox said. “That’s been good to see. We’ve been very cautious in progressing his ability to run and cut, so he hasn’t been cleared to do that yet. But there’s been no setbacks. They’re just taking their time with his rehabilitation. He’s probably a few weeks away from getting full clearance. But he’s making good progress.

“Juwan Parker’s surgery was successful. He’s back to running on the court. His conditioning and strength has a ways to go, but he’s back to doing quite a bit on the court. He’s probably a couple weeks away from being cleared for everything. Both guys are on the mend.”

There was a lot of attention Monday on the additions of four new coaches in the league: Michael White at Florida, Rick Barnes at Tennessee, Avery Johnson at Alabama and Ben Howland at Mississippi State. Obviously all those coaches have had great success elsewhere. Combined with a men’s basketball membership whose teams return largely intact, it has made for a stronger than ever basketball league.

“I think probably people are just starting to appreciate the depth of this league,” Fox said. “But there’s not a lot of programs that are rebuilding. Obviously when Kim Anderson came to Missouri last year, he had some rebuilding to do, but he’s further down the road now and probably past that. Frank (Martin) has rebuilt South Carolina. So there’s not many programs in our conference that are rebuilding, so you’ve got a lot of teams that are competitive. I think the comp across the board, there’s great parity. Obviously when you have that you created depth in our league. There’s good players, there’s good coaches, there’s an emphasis in the conference on the sport of basketball. All that being combined has led us to this point.

There was a lot of talk about the Confederate flag flap in the South. In general, Commissioner Sankey and all the coaches were in favor of removing the emblem from public buildings and prominent places. Here’s some of their thoughts.

“I support the calls that have been made to remove the Confederate battle flag from the prominent displays that have been noted. We seen some progress on that front in the state of Alabama. It’s an important conversation because our athletic programs provide a key rallying point for our states and our region . We want to make sure that they’re all welcoming circumstances as much as they could possibly be in our arenas and stadiums. Let’s make them welcoming places for all.”

— Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner

“It’s part of our history; it’s part of our fabric. It represents a lot of good to a lot of people and it represents what people were willing to die for. But there’s also another side to the situation and it’s offensive to numerous other folks. So we have to embrace both sides of it. We can’t just look at one side and say ‘to heck’ with the other group. You know, I think there’s a place for that flag in people’s private homes and museums that represent Confederate states and the history of South Carolina. But not in public places, you know. Government buildings and government grounds are representations of all our our people, not just some of our people. That’s the point I’m trying to make.”

— Frank Martin, South Carolina men’s basketball coach

“Obviously it offends a portion of our society so people are deciding to take them down. I’m good with that. … But since I’m not running for public office, I will let the powers that be decide those matters. I was thinking about running for president and I was discouraged from that.”

— John Calipari, Kentucky men’s basketball coach



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