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Sunday May 29th, 2016 9:31AM

Fox still trying to make hoops relevant in Athens

By The Associated Press
ATHENS -- Mark Fox heads into his fifth year of trying to make men's basketball relevant at Georgia.

He might be facing his toughest test yet.

The Bulldogs are coming off their third losing season in Fox's tenure, struggling to a 15-17 mark and making this a potentially crucial year in determining his long-term future at the Southeastern Conference school where football rules.

Improving on that record will be difficult after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who accounted for nearly a third of the team's scoring, left early for the NBA.

Caldwell-Pope averaged 18.5 points a game. No other returning player scored more than 7.9.

Still, Fox is optimistic about replacing his top scorer, though it certainly won't be with a single player.

"We finally have a level of experience and physicality and a full complement of players," he said. "We have a deeper team this year. We finally return players this year at every position who have played significant minutes. So I see in practice a team that's a little more comfortable, and hopefully that will work to our advantage."

Sophomore Kenny Gaines is expected to pick up a big chunk of the scoring load after playing well down the stretch.

But even if Caldwell-Pope had returned, Fox was counting on the Bulldogs being a more balanced team.

"It has to be a lot of guys," the coach said. "We can't say "Hey, Kenny, go get 20 a night" because that's not fair. So we'll need to replace him by committee. "

Several players, including oft-injured Marcus Thornton, are looking forward to a chance to shine.

"We all know Kentavious was an outstanding player, a great teammate and a great leader," Thornton said. "But we feel like everybody will learn from him and take things from him and grow as a group and as individuals. The strength in our team will probably lie in our depth and versatility. That's where I think we'll be able to take advantage and win some matchups."
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