Season Ending Men’s Basketball Banquet Held
On Monday, April 10, 2017, the curtain officially rang down on the 2016-17 Basketball season with the annual Men’s Basketball Banquet held at the Grand Ballroom at the Tate Center. The evening began with a few words by Chuck Dowdle about the year, beginning with the 10 practices preceding the team’s trip to Spain, followed by a season with many ups and downs. We were told this was the largest attendance at any Men’s Basketball postseason banquet in UGA History. A short video of some of the season highlights was shown and then a fine meal was had by all.
After dinner, Associate Head Coach, Philip Pearson, presented the awards to the players voted on by the team.
The Assist Award – J.J. Frazier
Rebounding Award – Derek Ogbeide
Defensive Award – Turtle Jackson
Sixth Man Award – Tyree Crump
Most Improved – E’Torrion Wilridge
Inspiration Award – introduced by Pearson as “so old he played with Coach Hayes” – Juwan Parker
MVP – J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten
Chuck Dowdle took the dais once again and introduced the seniors.
Houston will be attending UGA Law School next year and so will be around Athens at least another 3 years. The son of former UGA Forward Chad Kessler and nephew of UGA great Alec Kessler spoke initially about how difficult it will be to keep weight off. He said his dad, knowing his propensity to eat, uh, poorly, told him he had the frame to carry 300 lbs. He then said Coach Fox had more faith in him, suggesting he would show up one day at 250. He thanked the fans, coaches and even the managers. The main focus of Houston’s speech concerned responding to adversity. He had 2 points to make – first, that how one responds to adversity is a conscious choice. HK recalled seeing Fox after a particularly tough loss in his redshirt year. Fox told him to never get used to losing. Kessler said that made a big impression on him. Don’t ever give in to defeat, keep getting back up. His second point was that no one is in it alone. He described his teammates as his brothers, a family, and they have each other’s back. He concluded by stating, “I love this place so much!”
Kenny Paul Geno
Geno was pretty funny. He thanked the fans and said he loved to hear them “boo” bad calls. Geno noted that he grew up a Mississippi State fan (though no longer), shooting and playing games in the back yard, always wanting to play in the SEC, which he regarded the best conference in the country. He thanked his parents for just being the best people he knew and coming to nearly 90% of his games over his entire 4 year career, despite a 6 hour drive to Athens. Geno, too, thanked the coaches and trainers, who he saw far too often. He recalled the Missouri game his freshman year, the game just after Mark Fox’s father passed away. The team had lost at George Washington and Fox apologized to the team for not coaching hard because of his father. The players all told Fox that it wasn’t him; it was they that had lost the game. The next game was at then 20th ranked Missouri, and KPG’s words, “We kicked their butts.” He said it was incredibly emotional. He remembered Nemi Djurisic hugging Fox after the game, both of them crying.
He harkened back to Kessler’s speech, stating that he learned to fight through adversity and never give in. He said this year’s team faced quite a bit of adversity – he admitted that he wanted to punch the official in the face after the Texas A&M game, when he told them the game was over and that Maten’s shot came after the buzzer. Kenny marveled at the way J.J. put the team on his shoulders after Maten went down with his knee injury; he said it was truly amazing. He concluded by saying that he loved Athens and that there was nothing like going home to Mississippi with a big “G” on car.
Dowdle introduced Young by recalling the moment when he was awarded a full scholarship at the preseason banquet 2 seasons ago. Brandon said that he remembered other seniors making their speeches over the years and that he could not believe the day had come so fast. He thanked his parents, coaches and teammates. He concluded that “UGA has always been special to me” and recalled that Jay Bilas once observed, “Don’t take special for granted….”
Apologizing to his wife, Dowdle introduced J.J. by repeating what he said on the radio after a game, “If J.J. could cook, I would marry him.” He told Cindy Fox this, and she said, “You gotta get in line behind me.” J.J. began by thanking his parents; he thanked the trainers (5 in 4 years, I believe he said) for keeping him healthy and able to play – he joked that he was concerned about mentioning the trainers because they always seem to leave. He thanked strength coach Sean Hayes, who he called the most underrated guy on staff; he thanked each coach individually – Davison for his support (he said Director of Basketball Operations, Kent Davison, promised he would be in Athens all 4 years of his career – and he was), Pearson for being tough on him, Jonas Hayes for having an incredible spirit and Yasir Rosemond for being tough on him and loving him no matter what – when he did something wrong, Rosemond told him he was “too small to act the way he was acting”. In other words, he was dispensable, and he needed to straighten up. He recalled the first time he met Coach Rosemond, he was to meet Rosemond and Hayes at either the stadium or the track for a punishment for a transgression. He said, “But Coach Ya – he’s old; and Coach Hayes is chunky, so….”
J.J. saved his most choice words for Fox; he was starting to get very emotional; he said he made a bet with teammates that he wouldn’t cry. He had to stop once or twice to compose himself, and the audience applauded his effort. He said Fox coached him hard, but that he needed every bit of it. He admitted that he couldn’t stand Fox early in his career. But J.J. said Fox saw something in him that he didn’t see in himself. He said Fox gave him everything he had to get him to this point. JJ said Fox “took a chance on me when no other high major would on a 5’7″ 127 lb. South Georgia kid, and you took bullets for it. I hope I made you proud.” To his teammates, JJ said, “I hope I left something for you here in this program.” After a losing streak this season, the team made a promise they would not give up, and they came back to win after being down at Tennessee after that. He thanked the seniors and talked about their years together. Interestingly, he said that “Brandon Young was the leader of the team, and I was just out there.” He finished by saying, “I love this place and the Dawg Nation. Go Dawgs!”
Coach Fox’s Remarks
Fox was introduced by Chuck Dowdle and, given the length of the proceedings so far, promised to make his comments short. He began by addressing the coaches. When discussing Kent Davison, Fox said that Greg McGarity wanted him to give Davison boxing gloves, but that would have to wait. He observed of Matt Bucklin (UGA Men’s Basketball Operations Coordinator) who after attending many of these banquets with his date was finally engaged to her. He remarked that Rosemond thought he could sneak in with his date, thinking Fox wouldn’t notice, but he didn’t make it. Then there’s this gem… “And Coach Hayes will surprise us all with a date one of these days.”
Turning his attention to the players, he said Crump wanted to fight him at least 3 times this year. Kirby Smart is always texting him about Crump asking “How’s my Bearcat?” because they are both from Bainbridge. Fox said Crump is so talented, but he has work to do. Fox finished with Crump by saying, “As you heard, I was tough on J.J., so I’m gonna be tough on you!”
About Jordan Harris, Fox said that Harris led the team in 3 pt shooting percentage and had worked his way into starting and really contributing to the team when a little bone chip in his knee created a lot of problems for him. But Jordan has been rehabbing without surgery, and he knows Harris will be full strength next season.
Mark Fox commented on his walk-ons that were to return next season… He said they have to get some meat on Connor O’Neill’s bones so he can help them next season. Chris Harrison, the transfer who sat out this season, he said that Harrison is very athletic, and he is looking forward to seeing him step in to contribute.
On Turtle Jackson, Fox observed that he only had 26 TOs all year – amazing stat…. He said that he was shocked when he heard the team had voted Turtle Defensive Player of the Year. Turtle is another one who needs to hit the weights and get stronger so he can finish at the rim. This will be his first full off-season in the strength program.
As for Derek Ogbeide, Fox noted that he had 12 double figure rebound games. He said any time he had to make DO do something, all he had to do was threaten to call his father. LOL Gotta work on his conditioning and that free throw shooting.
Mike Edwards shot 52% from the floor and raised his FT shooting to 62% “from whatever it was last year.” (Uh, that would be 29.7%, Coach.) Fox said, “Mike’s raised his GPA to 3.9 – now if we can only raise his rebounding numbers….”
As for E’Torrion Wilridge, he said that Toe improved in every statistical category this season. Fox said he got a call from Wilridge’s mom once this season, and she said, “My boy needs some more asskicker in him.” He told Fox just to tell Toe his mom said, “Don’t make me come out there!” Really looking forward to seeing more improvement next year.
He commented on Pape Diatta’s new haircut and how a year under his belt and strength and conditioning will help him a lot. He said the staff is looking for big things from Diatta next year.
On Juwan Parker, Fox observed that he is a tough, hard-nosed kid. He said that he doesn’t know what year Parker is in at this point. In the middle of the season, Parker said his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon felt great, but his right one was bothering him. Fox said it was obvious in the UK game that Parker just couldn’t go. The surgery to repair the right Achilles was not as extensive, so he should be back full strength pretty soon.
Fox said other coaches are amazed at just how coachable Yante Maten continues to be, despite all of his success and accolades. He congratulated Yante on a great year. On his injury, Fox said, “I didn’t like Briscoe before the injury he caused to Yante, but I really didn’t like him afterwards.”
Of the seniors, Fox said the group finished with 81 wins, 2nd best of any senior class at UGA.
All players are given concussion tests before the season so they can establish baselines for testing in the event of possible concussion. Fox said Geno was the first player he had ever seen who scored better after he ran into a brick wall. He said Geno’s tip dunk against Georgia Tech late in the game was his favorite play of Geno’s career. Yes, Geno is from Mississippi, but he was 15-1 against the Mississippi schools for his career. His parents have been great supporters of the team throughout KPG’s career.
Fox announced that Brandon Young would be joining the staff as a grad assistant next season. He said Brandon Young is a great leader and has had a huge impact on the program – with a unique ability to connect with anyone – young, old, black, white, male or female (well, he may need to work on the female part).
On Kessler, Fox recalled that Houston tried to fight Nemi Djurisic 4 times and Marcus Thornton 3 times. He said Houston went on a visit to Clemson, and the coach said he would have to “Bleed Orange” if he were there. Kessler knew he could never do that. UGA is in his blood.
Finally, on J.J., Fox said that he used to take his son to watch recruits play. So he took him to this little gym and they saw all these guys playing, but he kept guessing who he was recruiting incorrectly. Finally, at halftime, he asked Fox who it was, and Fox answered that it was the little guy. He said, “Dad, I’m 11; he’s my size!” J.J. scored 20 in the second half to lead his team to a win. He congratulated J.J. on a remarkable career and an unbelievable competitive spirit. He finished with, “J.J. and all the seniors have help build and enrich the tradition here.” In these days of individuality and kids concentrating on “building their brand”, these kids built their brand on integrity and hard work. Greater days are ahead….
A Few Extras
- Pape Diatta confirmed he has one more year to play in Athens.
- Yante Maten said the knee is all but 100% now. He said his class load is tough this semester and gave no indication that he would not be back next season.
- Juwan Parker said his Achilles is healing. Wasn’t as bad as last year. He gave no indication he would not be ready to go next Fall.
- Jordan Harris confirmed he has a floating bone chip in a knee that he came to school with from an old injury. He is trying to avoid surgery, so he is working out that leg very hard. He said it really gave him problems during the year. He also said he visited Athens as a 9th grader and would have committed then if they would have let him. There was no question he wanted to be in Athens. He had to convince Tyree Crump to come with him. Must not have been too hard; they committed together nearly 2 years early.
I spoke to some of the coaches; they seem pretty sure they will sign somebody here in the spring. Isaac Kante was expected to visit recently, but his visit was derailed by weather in New York. He was on the plane waiting to take off, but the flight was cancelled because of weather and because the pilot didn’t show up. Kante had just had a visit to St. John’s, which would probably be a pretty tough team to beat, given the proximity. Garrison Brooks was released from his Letter of Intent by Mississippi State, he is once again in play.
If anyone has their own superlatives for the season, leave them in the comments.