Assistant Coach Mark Fox Looks Forward To Memorable Moments in World Cup Qualifying
Fox joins head coach Jeff Van Gundy on the bench for the team’s November qualifying window.
There already have been some memorable moments for coach Mark Fox during his short time with USA Basketball, and he hasn’t officially stepped into his role as an assistant coach yet.
Fox was named an assistant to coach Jeff Van Gundy on the World Cup Qualifying Team for the November window after previously serving as the scout for the team in the July and September windows.
In July, Fox traveled with the team to a game in Cuba. And after watching Team USA get a win, he joined players and coaches at a team dinner. But it was how they all arrived at the meal that made it special.
Cuba was isolated for years by economic sanctions and didn’t make a lot of progress technologically. Visitors now experience a sort of trip back in time when they come to the country and Fox recalls the players and coaches all riding in taxis from the 1950s to dinner that night in Havana.
“That was a really cool experience,” he said.
During the September window after winning 78-48 in Panama, Fox recalls the joy on American faces in the locker room because the team had played so well and taken the next step moving on to the next stage of qualifying.
“I think we all really enjoyed the postgame celebration there because it’s intense,” Fox said. “It’s an experience where everything is crammed into 10 days. It’s a very short season. When you have a two-game season every couple months, you still have the emotions of a season.”
Now, Fox is preparing to join Van Gundy on the bench as an assistant coach along with John Thompson III as the team prepares for several days in Houston before games beginning Nov. 29 versus Argentina (7-1) in La Rioja, Argentina, and Dec. 2 versus Uruguay (5-3) in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Earning the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for USA Basketball in a World Cup qualifying role is special to Fox, who said he has always paid attention to the national team since he was a kid in the 1970s.
“USA Basketball has always been something that I thought was tremendously important to basketball in our country,” Fox said. “Having the opportunity to contribute in some small way to its continued success, that’s an honor to me. When I was asked to do it, there was no hesitation just because I think it’s a tremendous opportunity.”
Fox has a long track record as a successful head coach at the college level and should be an asset to Van Gundy, just as he was while serving as a scout. Fox compiled a combined record of 286–176 (.619) in nine seasons as men’s basketball head coach at the University of Georgia and five seasons at the University of Nevada. He also has 12 seasons of experience as a college assistant.
He said the voices in his head and the fellow coaches he considers mentors include legends Tex Winter, Pete Newell, current USA Basketball national team head coach Gregg Popovich and Brad Stevens among others. He said he already has learned a lot from Van Gundy and Thompson and hopes he is giving both of those veteran coaches ideas to consider as well.
Fox said working with Van Gundy has been a pleasure because the veteran coach and broadcaster is in it for all the right reasons.
“He’s very committed to this experience, helping all of the players who participate,” Fox said. “For those guys, they come in and they think they’re going to get the humor and the personality that they see on TV and they get a lot of that. But they also get the other side of the competitive coach Van Gundy. He’s an extreme competitor and a great teacher. He’s really selfless.”
One of the parts of coaching Fox always has liked best is giving one-on-one attention to a player and helping young men improve themselves and their game. He said it has been a pleasure to work with players who have been through college and are now at the professional level because the players are already operating at such a high level from the start.
“I think coaching older players, that’s a distinct difference because obviously in college those guys are still young,” Fox said. “These guys are a little bit older, a little bit more seasoned and obviously have had either a cup of coffee in the NBA or they’re on the cusp of being full-time NBA guys. I think to coach guys who are a little bit older, a little more mature, that’s been really enjoyable for me because their approach to the game is pretty intense and professional and it’s obviously a big responsibility to put the USA across your chest.”
Fox said while there has been plenty of turnover in the team in these first three windows, he has been impressed with the intensity and focus that players bring each time they prepare for the next round of games.
He said it is a challenge for USA Basketball to get the right mix of players together, giving coaches a group that can respond to any kind of situation or scheme that might be thrown at them.
“To do that, you need players with the right mentality and fortunately we’ve been able to have that. I think it takes older players to just have the ability to accomplish such a task.
“…We’ve had really good players, but also really good people who have been on the team and that makes it fun.”