Commentary

Hoyas find the Wright fit at point guard

Originally Published: December 13, 2008
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III isn't a big believer in box scores, doesn't think the caliber of a team or the play of an individual can be measured by a bunch of numbers on a Xeroxed piece of paper.

[+] EnlargeChris Wright
AP Photo/Nick WassChris Wright scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and overtime in Georgetown's win over Memphis.
The stat sheet showed Chris Wright had little impact on the game in the first half -- taking just three shots and missing all of them -- apparently lost in the shuffle in the first 20 minutes.

Thompson knew otherwise. He knew that his point guard worked his rear end off on defense and directed his team on offense and that without the sophomore, Georgetown probably was looking at the other side of a 79-70 overtime win against Memphis.

In a game filled with statistical oddities -- Memphis outrebounded the Hoyas by 17 and lost; Georgetown missed 16 3-pointers and nine free throws and won -- there indeed was one critically important item that couldn't be calibrated.

John Calipari doesn't have a point guard. He tried to force Antonio Anderson to become one for the first time in his basketball life. When that experiment ended in the expected crash and burn, he turned to Wesley Witherspoon. That hasn't exactly been the solution, either. Witherspoon turned the ball over only three times, but he also dished out only two assists. Calipari now is toying with moving Tyreke Evans, probably the Tigers' best pure shooter, over to the point.

Fact is, Calipari can cross reference, itemize and dissect his roster all he wants. He won't find a point guard there because there isn't one. There is talent and athleticism, but Derrick Rose isn't walking back into the building.

Georgetown, on the other hand, has Wright.

"He hurt us," Calipari said of Wright. "They had one guy in control of the game the entire time. We didn't. That's why we lose."

This is the player everyone expected Wright to be a year ago. A McDonald's All-American in high school, he figured to push Jonathan Wallace for the starting job last season, or at least get substantial minutes. But a foot injury sidelined him for the entire Big East regular season and by the time he returned, Wallace had established himself as the unquestionable starter and leader for the Hoyas.

No surprise then that this preseason the key question surrounding the Hoyas -- along with rookie Greg Monroe's ability to replace Roy Hibbert -- was whether Wright could make this his team.

The answer, with Big East play just two weeks away and the Hoyas hugging a 7-1 record, is yes.

[+] EnlargeTyreke Evans
AP Photo/Nick WassTyreke Evans scored 20 points in Memphis' loss to Georgetown, but was only 8-of-24 shooting.
"He'll sleep well tonight," Thompson said of Wright. "He gives you an honest effort every game and he's growing up as a player in his understanding of getting his team involved. He made plays, not just baskets."

This is unlike any Georgetown team Thompson has had. The Hoyas still run the Princeton offense and Thompson still searches for offensive perfection on every possession, but because of Wright's ability to push the ball -- and with a far more athletic Monroe holding down the post -- Georgetown can and will run.

The Hoyas weren't dusted on Saturday night because they could hang with Memphis athletically -- scoring 20 points off 20 Tigers miscues.

"We're becoming a team that can win a lot of different ways," Thompson said.

For those looking for aesthetic basketball wonder, this wasn't the place to go. It was grind-it-out ugly, with open jumpers clanging off rims and such fierce battles for rebounds that the Hoyas managed to tip the ball in for Memphis three times.

As happy as he was in the minutes right after the game ended, Thompson knew he'd need to swig the same Pepto Bismol he drained after the Hoyas toasted American in what was a less-than-pleasing effort for the coach.

"We did not play well," he said, "but it's also good to know we can not play well and win a game."

Wright certainly has eye-catching sizzle and flash -- his sweet spin move and drive to the hoop is a guarantee for a highlight reel somewhere -- but he also has substance. In a game that required plenty of intestinal fortitude, it carried him further.

Switched on to Evans at the end of the second half and into overtime, Wright gave up five inches and 18 pounds to the Tigers freshman, but in the critical endgame -- when Memphis asked Evans to win the game -- he went 1-for-8.

"I remember before the game how everybody was saying how big they were and how athletic," Wright said. "I'm sure their size was an advantage, but if you play hard, you can overcome a lot."

That was exactly Calipari's thought. When the game ended, he wrote one word on the blackboard: tough. The Tigers pulled down 53 rebounds and scored 28 second-chance points, but he left D.C. questioning whether his team, particularly his upperclassmen, had the innards to be the team he'd like them to be.

Anderson and Robert Dozier, two players who elected to come back to Memphis instead of head to the NBA after last season, looked like guys who'd rather be somewhere else. Combined they shot 3-of-19.

[+] EnlargeGreg Monroe
AP Photo/Nick WassFreshman Greg Monroe has given the Hoyas a more athletic presence in the post.
"If we do not play tougher and rougher, we have guys who will be nice college players and then it will be over," Calipari said.

But Memphis lost more than players from last year's team. It lost an identity. Anderson and Dozier have never been asked to be leaders or focal points before. Evans doesn't have the luxury that Rose enjoyed, with talent and experience surrounding him to cushion his baptism into the college game.

Seven games in, Calipari is still searching.

"I don't have my team figured out," he said. "I'm trying everything and looking at it and watching it. Sometimes I'm really happy and other times I'm like, 'Oh my gosh.' We haven't been like this for three years. We knew our team and now we have no idea."

Thompson isn't about to say he has all the answers for his Hoyas, but he believes this win is the kind that could offer up some answers.

There was no breathing room, no wiggle room. The lead changed hands 18 times and the score sat at a stalemate 15 more times and headed into OT in part because Georgetown failed to knock down a field goal for 5:12, spanning the end of regulation and into the extra period.

But when OT began, Memphis hit just one bucket.

Georgetown only missed one.

"It was important for this group to play in a tough, tight game and come away with a win," Thompson said. "We can be a lot better, a lot better. But coming into this, I was worried. It's a big emotional game and we're in the middle of exams. We had a sporadic week of practice, so I wasn't sure what I'd get. We came out focused, which is a very good thing. This team has a good chance to be something."

No matter what the box score says.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

Dana O'Neil | email

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