In determining how I wanted to start breaking down Mark Fox’s history as a coach and what it might tell us about his prospects at Cal, I figured why not start with the backbone of success for any program: recruiting.
So with that in mind, I went through every single recruiting class that Fox signed at Georgia and Nevada so see what we could learn. For transparency’s sake, I used the 247 rankings.
We’re going to start with Fox’s recruiting at Georgia. It’s a more relevant sample because it’s longer, more recent, more complete, and at a more comparable level of basketball than his time in Nevada.
Mark Fox arrived at Georgia in 2009 and inherited a three player recruiting class of all-3-star players. Two of those players ended up transferring.
I’m going to remove that first recruiting class, because I don’t think it’s fair to judge a coach on a recruiting cycle that he didn’t truly have control over. That leaves eight recruiting classes, in which Fox signed 30 players. What can we say about these 30 recruits who signed on to play at Georgia under Mark Fox?
Here’s the breakdown:
5 star: 1
4 star: 3
3 star: 23
2 star: 2
If you were curious, over that same time span Cal signed seven 4/5 star recruits under Monty, Cuonzo Martin, and Wyking Jones. I suppose one could argue that Cal is (was?) comparatively more attractive within the Pac-12 than Georgia was within the SEC, but I could also point out that even Oregon State has managed to sign eight 4-star recruits over the same time span. There are typically somewhere in the ballpark of 125 4/5 star recruits in any given class, FWIW.
This is Fox’s biggest strength. Out of 30 signed recruits, exactly four players didn’t exhaust their eligibility at Georgia. One of those was a grad transfer, and two of them were marginal players who ended up transferring to DII colleges more appropriate for their skill level. A 4th was dismissed from the team for a drug-related arrest. That means that exactly one player transferred to a different DI school, and that was after graduating from Georgia.
True, some of Fox’s recruits haven’t finished their college career yet, but as best as I can tell they are all still at Georgia.
Next level success
On the downside, exactly one player recruited by Fox* was drafted into, or received playing time in, the NBA. That player is of course Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is also Fox’s only 5 star recruit. KCP has built himself a solid 6 year NBA career befitting of his 5 star recruit status.
Unfortunately none of Fox’s other recruits took major developmental leaps to get NBA attention. This is maybe not a huge surprise (remember: recruiting rankings are better at projecting talent than many nay-sayers think) but is still a bit of a bummer. If you were hoping that Fox had shown an ability to either identify overlooked talent or develop average recruits into NBA-ready players, his record at Georgia deflates those hopes.
*Two players that played under Fox but were recruited by Dennis Felton were 2nd round draft picks in 2011. Both players were four star recruits.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of Fox’s recruits at Georgia were from the south (23/30), and the majority of his recruits from the South were specifically out of the state of Georgia (15). Fox grabbed a couple of guys from the metro atlantic area and a couple from the Midwest, plus one JC prospect from Idaho. But this was otherwise an entirely SEC-recruiting area affair. I suppose this would perhaps raise some concerns about his ability to recruit on the west coast – more on that below.
Also worth noting: Fox doesn’t appear to recruit internationally, unless you count a Montenegrin national who came to the USA as a teenager and was recruited out of a high school in Connecticut.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a recruiting database that had comprehensive information on Nevada recruiting that went further back than 2007, while Fox’s first class at Nevada was the class of 2004. For that reason, I won’t break down Fox’s recruiting efforts at Nevada in the same way.
What I can say is that Nevada under Trent Johnson and Mark Fox built their success by successfully identifying and developing overlooked talent. Nick Fazekas, Ramon Sessions, JaVale McGee were all largely overlooked by major programs, and none of them earned better than a 3 star rating in any recruiting service. Yet all three had major impacts at the collegiate and professional levels, and they fueled Nevada’s success through the mid-aughts.
And in terms of Geography, Nevada went everywhere. They pulled McGee out of Chicago, grabbed a few recruits out of Texas, regularly went out east to Virginia and the Carolinas, and regularly pulled JC guys.
The biggest fish Fox pulled in that period (by a pretty wide margin) was 5 star prospect Luke Babbitt out of Reno. Fox convinced Babbitt to stay at home, and although his two years at Reno didn’t result in a tournament appearance, Babbitt was an excellent player at Nevada and managed an eight year NBA career.
If you’re curious, I was only able to successfully identify one contributor on Fox’s Nevada squads from California - Kyle Shiloh, an unranked point guard out of Bakersfield. I can’t say there’s any real evidence that Fox and Johnson had a ton of success mining California for talent, but again the records I have available that far back are sketchy.
There’s a certain static nature to Fox’s recruiting, and tenure, at Georgia. Every year Fox signed a few 3-star players, and they then played at a 3-star level for four seasons and graduated, perhaps to pursue a professional career overseas in, say, Latvia.
Interestingly, when Fox’s 3-star equilibrium was punctured, Georgia didn’t really do any better. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s two years in Athens saw Georgia go 14-20 in conference play with no post-season play. When Fox finally pulled a couple of top 100, 4-star prospects in each of his final two classes, Georgia again failed to break .500 in conference play.
I think it’s hard to reach any conclusion other than that Fox needs to recruit better at Cal than he did at Georgia. Doing so, considering Cal’s damaged reputation and Fox’s thin ties to California as a recruiter, may well be a very challenging ask.