DESTIN, Fla. - Georgia basketball fans aren't the only ones who have high expectations for Mark Fox's Bulldogs this year.
So does the head coach, who said he doesn't mind the extra pressure at all.
"I think it can be really healthy, they really can be," Fox said during Tuesday's SEC Meetings. "With these guys, nothing has been expected of them but now they've grown up enough where it's time something is expected of them, so in a lot of ways it's healthy."
There's plenty of reason for optimism.
When Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie announced they would return to Athens instead of head for the NBA it guaranteed the Bulldogs would have their top two scorers back from a season ago.
That's not all. Coupled with the addition of Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson and a solid signing class, many fans are already penciling the Bulldogs into the NCAA Tournament.
Pressure? Not to Fox.
"There's not any pressure because usually we have higher expectations of ourselves than other people do," Fox said. "But yes, we do have a lot of expectations on ourselves and I'm glad the fan base is expecting them to be good, too."
It certainly beats the alternative.
When Fox attended his first-ever SEC meetings last spring, he had absolutely no clue what to expect from his players, many of whom still hadn't gotten over the firing of former coach Dennis Felton.
But after a year which saw Fox's scrappy Bulldogs upset the likes of Tennessee, Illinois, Florida and Georgia Tech before beating Arkansas in the opening round of the SEC Tournament, the coach now has a better idea.
This year, Fox said players are expecting victories to be the norm.
"I think our mentality is completely different today than it was a year ago," Fox said. "When I came here a year ago I was not exactly sure what kind of mentality I was going to find. The culture around our team now is our team expects us to be successful; they expect us to be good. I think we've made progress."
The Bulldogs showed that in more ways than one.
Not only did the wins come more frequently than many expected, but Georgia's penchant for strong defense and scrappy play helped bring the fans back to Stegeman Coliseum which had been missing in recent years.
"You only have one chance to make a good start and I think we've done that," Fox said. "But we can be satisfied with where we are and we're driving our team to hopefully reach that higher level."
It doesn't hurt that Thompkins and Leslie will call Georgia home for at least one more year. Both players thought long and hard about leaving Athens early for the NBA before deciding to return.
"What we have with with Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins is two guys who have proven that they can score at this level, so now we have two guys who can get baskets where as last time we were concerned about who was going to do that," Fox said. "Those guys had very good sophomore year but they can't rest on their laurel. They give us a very good starting point, plus we've added some guys who can compliment them and if they work hard can help make them better players than they were last year."
Contrary to popular belief, Fox said he didn't have to do a bit of recruiting to get either of his young stars to stay.
In fact, he didn't even try.
"I did not doing any convincing at all. We had no conversations about that; they came back because they wanted to come back," Fox said. "The only thing I told them is to listen to the 30 GMs because they're the ones who have the power on draft day. I told them I wanted both to understand what we had, but I was not going to recruit them to come back, because if you do, it will come back as if I twisted you do. I told them I wanted them to come back because this is what you want to do. I let them make their own, independent decisions."
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