Playing At a "Magical Level"

ATHENS – Just what exactly is the, "magical level," Mark Fox expects his players to play at?

This level of play isn't exactly a supernatural realm; it's actually just a levelheaded approach to playing the game of basketball.

Junior Trey Thompkins, who scored 25 points in the Bulldogs 77-70 win over Kentucky Saturday, does the best job breaking down the level of emotion Mark Fox expected his team to play at against the Wildcats.

"Everybody was geeked up and ready to go, but we're also at even keel because we don't want to be too high and burn out when we get out on the court," Thompkins said. "We don't want to be too low and get down and have to fight back. I think we did a great job with emotion."

"We told ourselves we had to get to the magical level," Thompkins continued. "Coach tells us that all the time. Don't want to be too high, don't want to be too low because these are the types of games we need if we're going to make a run into the tournament."

The win over the Wildcats was arguably the biggest of Fox' tenure. And the victory helped vault the Bulldogs into the Associated Press Top 25. Georgia, making it's season debut at No. 24, hasn't been ranked in over eight years.

But Fox and his players aren't surprised about the ranking. They expected to be highly thought of by now. The, "magical level," isn't just about the way Georgia plays in each game. The level is about how the team is perceived. It's about how the players carry themselves.

"I think what's different is last year we had to play a little bit out of character," Fox said. "We talked about this year if we just play well we're going to be good enough to have a chance to win. I got to give our kids credit, they played with maturity."

Words like maturity, experience and even keeled help construct Fox' magical level of approach and play.

Heading into Saturday's game, Kentucky was ranked 10th in the nation. The Wildcats were a 5-point favorite. And they've got one of the most known coaches in the nation.

Despite all the tradition and headlines, Georgia outplayed Kentucky most of the game. And the biggest note: The Bulldogs expected to.

"We feel like we should be in the same talk as these other teams because we work hard every day," Thompkins said. "Every day we come in and lay it on the line."

After building a double-digit lead in the first half, Fox told his team they were ready to start playing with teams like Kentucky.

"We talked a lot at the half about the fact that we're mature enough to play two halves," he said. "We're mature enough to withstand a run that we know they're going to make. And that we're an older team now, and we should be able to finish this game if we play the game right."

There was a moment of adversity in the triumph. Kentucky did make the run Fox told his team they were going to make. Georgia, after blowing an 11-point halftime lead, trailed 56-55 with nine minutes to play.

"We got a little emotional, but then we were able to settle down and were able to get some rebounds and some stops," Fox said.

After settling back into the "magical level," Georgia outscored Kentucky 22-14 over down the stretch. Even recruits in attendance could feel Georgia's mental fortitude.

"I like how when they get in a tough situation nobody panics," 2012 Southwest DeKalb prospect Shaq Goodwin said.

Sure, Georgia got a couple of wins over ranked opponents last season. But those wins were surprising. Those wins were a statement from an upstart program trying to get noticed.

"Yeah, last year we didn't quite have what it took to win these types of games," Thompkins said. "This year we're a year older. We got guys who have been through wars and who know how to handle the emotions of these types of games."

Saturday's win should not have come as a surprise to many. Granted, the Bulldogs were an underdog according to the line. But with six experienced upperclassmen leading the way, the team's goals are bigger than single victories.

"I think it might make a statement," said junior guard Gerald Robinson. "It should make a statement. But I don't feel like people should overlook us too much anyway, especially after the foundation that we set last year. I feel like we have good players and a good conference. I feel like people will pay a lot more attention now."

This Georgia team has it's sights set on winning the East, winning the conference and playing well into March.

And considering what the program did—or did not do—the past eight years, that would be a magical level of success to achieve.

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