Cal Basketball: A Look at Mark Fox's Recruiting and Player Development

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, now with the Lakers, was the SEC player of the year at Georgia under Mark Fox Photo by Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

A cursory account of what Cal's new head coach did at Georgia and Nevada

Mark Fox faces a challenging task in rebuilding Cal’s basketball program, which means he needs to recruit top-notch talent, then develop it into Pac-12-level players.

We take a quick look at how well Fox did in those respects during his nine years as Georgia’s coach and five years as Nevada’s head coach. We used 247 Sports’ recruiting rankings as our source for determining recruiting success, although poor recruiting rankings do not preclude success on the court. Gonzaga’s recruiting classes have ranked outside the top 100 in seven of the past 12 seasons, and the Zags have done pretty well in that span.

We present the year, where Georgia’s recruiting class ranked in the SEC, where that class ranked nationally and whether it was ranked above or below Cal’s recruiting class that year.

2018-19* -- 7th in the SEC, 37th nationally (above Cal, which was 46th)

2017-18 – 9th in SEC, 41st nationally (above Cal, 44th)

2016-17 – 6th in the SEC, 35th nationally (above Cal, 55th)

2015-16 – 9th in SEC, 48th nationally (below Cal, 20th)

2014-15 – 14th in SEC, 110th nationally (above Cal, 124th)

2013-14 – 10th in SEC, 58th nationally (behind Cal, 29th)

2012-13 – 7th in SEC, 37th nationally (above Cal, 48th)

2011-12 – 7th in SEC, 32nd nationally (above Cal, 121st)

2010-11 – 13th in SEC, 73rd nationally (behind Cal, 28th)

2009-10** -- 11th in SEC, 104th nationally (above Cal, 240th)

*--Season after Fox was dismissed, but he recruited most of this class

**--Fox’s first season at Georgia, so his predecessor was responsible for most of this recruiting class

In general, Fox’s Georgia recruiting classes ranked in the middle of the Southeastern Conference. None was among the top five in the conference or among the top 30 in the country, but none of his final four classes fell outside the top 50 nationally. There were two poor recruiting classes (2010 and 2014) if we ignore his first season when he had minimal influence on the 2009 class.

In his time at Georgia, Fox landed three players who were ranked among the top 100 prospects, including one who was among the top 50 – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was the No. 12 prospect in the 2011 class.

Now let’s take a look at his player development by considering the Georgia players who were named all-conference and what their recruiting ranking was as incoming freshmen.

--- Trey Thompkins, two-time, first-team all-conference (2010, 2011) – Fox inherited Thompkins, who was the No. 76-ranked prospect in 2008. Thompkins averaged 12.6 points and was a starter as a freshman the season before Fox arrived, but Fox may have helped him advance to an elite level. He averaged 17.7 points as a sophomore in Fox’s first season and 16.4 as a junior before turning pro and getting drafted in the second round.

--- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SEC player of the year in 2013 as a sophomore and the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft – Caldwell-Pope was the 12th-ranked recruit in 2011, so he had a head start on stardom, but Fox did not mess it up and helped him become an NBA lottery pick after he averaged 18.5 points as a sophomore.

--- Charles Mann, second-team all-SEC as a sophomore in 2014 – Ranked as the nation’s No. 195 recruit in the class of 2012, Mann emerged as a standout in his sophomore season when he averaged 13.9 points. He did not get any all-conference recognition in his junior or senior seasons as his numbers fell slightly when more talent was added to the roster.

--- Marcus Thornton, second-team all-SEC as a senior in 2015 – Thornton was rated the 121st-best prospect in 2010, and he improved significantly during his time at Georgia. He averaged 1.5 points and 1.9 rebounds as a freshman and 3.0 points and 4.8 rebounds as a sophomore, but by the time he was a fifth-year senior he improved that to 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while increasing his shooting percentage.

--- J.J. Frazier, first-team All-SEC in 2017 – Frazier is one of Fox’s best development stories. He was ranked as the 208th-best prospect in the class of 2013, and averaged just 3.7 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists as freshman. His numbers improved each year until he averaged 18.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a senior.

--- Yante Maten, two-time first-team all-SEC and 2018 SEC Player of the Year – No player developed more under Fox than Maten. He was ranked as the No. 225 prospect in the 2014 recruiting class and averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds as a freshman. But he made huge gains the next season and put up big numbers his final three seasons at Georgia. In his senior season, he averaged 19.3 points and 8.6 rebounds. He was not drafted by the NBA but recently signed an NBA contract with the Miami Heat.

--- Nicolas Claxton, second-team all-SEC in 2019 as a sophomore – Fox did not coach Claxton this past season, but he should get partial credit for developing Claxton as a freshman the previous season. Claxton was rated the 231st-best prospect in 2017 when he was recruited by Fox. He averaged 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds as a freshman in his only season under Fox, then improved to 13.0 points and 8.6 points this past season under Tom Crean.

Information about Fox’s recruits and players at Nevada (2004-2009) is sketchy, but there are some worthwhile examples while noting that teams in the Western Athletic Conference seldom signed highly-rated recruits.

--- Ramon Sessions – Sessions arrived at Nevada in Fox’s first season with the Wolf Pack in 2004, and as the top assistant at Nevada when Sessions committed, Fox no doubt had some influence on Sessions’ decision to come to Reno. Sessions ranked as the nation’s 27th-best point guard in the class of 2004. He averaged 12.3 points in his final season at Nevada, was a second-round NBA pick in 2007 and played 11 seasons in the NBA.

--- Nick Fazekas – Fazekas was signed by Nevada in 2003, when Fox was a Wolf Pack assistant coach under head coach Trent Johnson, who is now a Fox assistant coach at Cal. Coming out of high school Fazekas was a skinny, 6-foot-11 player who was the 236th-ranked recruit in the class. He was the Western Athletic Conference player of the year in each of his final three seasons at Nevada, which were also Fox’s first three seasons as the Wolf Pack head coach.

--- Marcelus Kemp – He arrived at Nevada with little fanfare in 2002, but he became a two-time first-team all-WAC pick in 2007 and 2008, Fox’s third and fourth seasons with the Wolf Pack.

--- JaVale McGee – McGee selected Nevada from among three choices (San Francisco and UNLV were the others) in 2006, and went from averaging 3.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks as a freshman to 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks as a sophomore in 2008, when he was a second-team all-WAC selection. He left after two seasons, was a first-round pick and is still in the NBA.

--- Armon Johnson – Johnson was rated the nation’s 654th-best prospect when he committed to his hometown team, Nevada, in 2007. But he was a first-team all-conference selection by his second season with Fox and the Wolf Pack.

--- Luke Babbitt – Babbitt is the highest rated recruit ever to attend Nevada. He was ranked as the 18th-best prospect of the 2008 class and had offers from Arizona, Gonzaga, Ohio State and UCLA as well as Nevada. A Reno resident, Babbitt stayed home to play for Fox, and he was a first-team all-WAC selection as a freshman in Fox’s final season at Nevada. Fox would have had to mess up development in a big way to prevent Babbitt from becoming a star.

(Click here for a story on the players available for Fox at Cal)