Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox admits he probably pushes sophomore Travis Leslie as hard, if not harder than anybody else on the Bulldogs' team.
The reason is simple.
Fox sees a player with a world of natural basketball ability, but one that occasionally needs to be reeled in to take proper advantage of the talent that he has.
If Friday night's exhibition opener against North Georgia was any indication, Fox's guiding hand is already paying dividends after Leslie's 21 points led the Bulldogs to an 87-53 win.
"I'm not trying to harness it (Leslie's ability); I'm just trying to direct it the right way. Travis is a talented young guy and has a bright future if he uses those talents the right way," Fox said. "He'll probably tell you I've been pushing him harder than anybody because he does have such great natural talent and tonight he was able to use that to his advantage."
Leslie appreciates Fox's efforts.
"Coach knows I've got some talent and he's just pushing me to become a better player so I can make it the league one day," Leslie said. "He keeps driving me, encouraging me to get better. I love it."
Leslie's hard work appears to be paying off.
The former Columbia High star scored his 21 points in just 20 minutes of playing time, going 9-of-13 from the field, including three dunks and turned the ball over only once.
He dished out two assists and pulled down five boards.
"Travis was able to do a lot of things in the open court tonight. I think we had a lot of passes that led him to easy baskets and dunks," Fox said. "He's got a nose for the ball. I think with the system that we're running, as we get more and more comfortable, I think you'll see him make some plays and he'll learn how to play off the other guys in the system and use the attention that Trey (Thompkins) will get to his advantage."
Overall, Fox was pleased with what he saw.
Eleven different players saw at least 10 minutes of court time, including Thompkins who tossed in 11 points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
Drazen Zlovaric and Ebuka Anyaorah added 10 apiece. North Georgia did not have single player finish in double figures.
Georgia shot 60 percent from the field (34-for-56) and out-rebounded North Georgia (42-30).
"I thought it was a good exhibition for us. We were able to give different guys a lot of minutes and get lots of different looks. For the most part, that was our main objective, to give each kid an opportunity with the scoreboard on, fans in the seats," Fox said. "I thought our team, as we expected, did a lot of things that we were pleased with and leave here tonight with a long list of things that we can improve on. But that's par for the course for an exhibition game."
Although next Friday's game against New Orleans qualifies as Georgia's official season-opener, Fox admitted it was a special evening being able to take the court as the Bulldogs' head coach for the first time.
"It wasn't my first game in Stegeman because I had coached here before (with Nevada), but it was (special) when I came to the arena, it was a special feeling because it was the first time," he said. "But during the game it's basketball and when the ball goes up, it's competition. But it was different and it felt good to pull up to the arena and know that I'm going to be the coach at Georgia."
NOTES: Center Albert Jackson did not play in Friday's game after he broke a bone in his right hand before preseason practice began. He had his cast removed last week and has been working out in a protective splint.
Friday's announced crowd was 4,580.
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