Team preview: Georgetown
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2009-10 season, exclusively on Insider
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(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
The Georgetown Hoyas appeared to be poised for another great season in 2008-09.
All the pieces appeared to be in place. Coming off their second consecutive Big East regular-season title -- a first in the team's storied history -- they had the top high-school post player in the nation in Greg Monroe coming in to replace departing center Roy Hibbert and a healthy Chris Wright lined up to replace the reliable Jonathan Wallace at point guard.
Austin Freeman, like Monroe and Wright a McDonald's All-American, had a year behind him and was ready, like Wright, to make the jump from freshman contributor to sophomore star. And let's not forget about forward DaJuan Summers, one of the toughest match-ups in the nation because of his prototype NBA body at 6-8 and 236 pounds and his ability to play both outside and in.
|Last Season||16-15 (.516)|
|Conference Record||7-11 (t-11th)|
|Coach||John Thompson III (Princeton '88)|
|Record At School||116-51 (5 years)|
|Career Record||184-93 (9 years)|
|RPI Last 5 years||70-26-6-8-63|
Throw in the addition of big man Julian Vaughn, a talented transfer from Florida State, the addition of a few other talented young players and coach John Thompson III once again calling the shots, and a third straight finish near the top of the Big East standings -- and a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance -- seemed to be foregone conclusions.
For a while, things went according to plan -- maybe even better than they should have, considering their youth. Non-conference victories over Maryland and Memphis were nice building blocks, and the Hoyas followed those up with what to many represented a signature victory: a 74-63 manhandling of the No. 2 Connecticut Huskies and Hasheem Thabeet on the road.
Five days later, the No. 3 Pittsburgh Panthers traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Hoyas' home opener at the Verizon Center and, simply put, Georgetown fell on its face. Unable to build on any of the momentum from the Connecticut game, the Hoyas collapsed in the second half en route to a 70-54 loss, one that snapped their 29-game home winning streak. Most troubling in the setback was Pittsburgh's absolute domination of the boards, 48-23, 20 of those coming on the offensive end.
Georgetown had little time to digest it, though, as it traveled to face Notre Dame -- and the nation's longest home winning streak at that point at the Irish's Joyce Center -- just two days later. And while the Hoyas played better, they still wound up falling, 73-67. Consecutive home victories over Providence and Syracuse righted the ship and got Georgetown back to above .500 in the league standings, but a trip out of conference -- rare for most teams in the middle of January -- kicked off a downward spiral from which it was unable to recover.
The game, at No. 3 Duke, was hard-fought but ultimately another loss for the Hoyas, 76-67. Ranked 12th in the nation at that point, they returned home and to league play five days later but wound up being clobbered by an unranked West Virginia squad, 75-58. A three-game road trip loomed on the horizon after that performance, and it wound up being an unmitigated disaster as Georgetown lost, 65-60, at Seton Hall, 65-57, at Cincinnati and by 94-82 at Marquette.
Summers injured his ankle in the Cincinnati game and was less than 100 percent against Marquette, but that third loss to the Golden Eagles was nonetheless eye-opening in that the 94 points the Hoyas surrendered were, to that point, the most ever under Thompson. A sign of things to come, Georgetown rebounded briefly by beating Rutgers, 57-47, before dropping consecutive overtime games at home to Cincinnati and on the road to Syracuse.
The Hoyas won at USF, but then returned home only to be drubbed by both Marquette and Louisville. With their hopes of possibly winning a third consecutive Big East title already gone in the wind, they needed a strong finish to try to position themselves for a decent postseason run, yet weren't even able to muster that.
A rousing victory at No. 10 Villanova appeared to be a step in the right direction, but three days later Georgetown lost in overtime at St. John's, 59-56. A victory over DePaul closed out the regular season, but a meek one-and-done showing in the Big East Tournament, a 64-59 loss to St. John's, set the stage for the Hoyas' season finale, a 74-72 loss at Baylor in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The team's final record, 16-15, was easily its worst in Thompson's five-year tenure at the school, and the worst overall since a 13-15 finish under Craig Esherick in 2003-04. The 7-11 finish in the Big East was the worst since the Hoyas went 4-12 in that final season under Esherick.
Under Thompson Georgetown has become known as one of the stingiest defensive teams in the nation, and allowing opponents 63.9 points and 40.7 percent shooting over the course of the season certainly fit the Hoyas' profile. It was their inability to get key stops down the stretch -- numbers that are much harder to quantify -- that wound up being one of their biggest weaknesses.
They also didn't rebound particularly well -- especially on the offensive end -- and were prone to giving the ball away. But in the final analysis, it was the Hoyas' youth that did them in. Their starting lineup at the end of the season featured a junior (Summers), three sophomores (Wright, Freeman and Nikita Mescheriakov) and a freshman (Monroe), and they had just one senior, guard Jessie Sapp, making any contributions off the bench.
So while they were able to win games early just based on sheer physical talent, opponents were able to counteract that with experience and game-planning as the season went along. And for Georgetown, the results weren't pretty.
"It was difficult," said Thompson. "We started off the first part of the year playing very well, and then once we got into the latter part, it was difficult. As a whole, there was a long list of things that went wrong, actually. At the end of the day, inexperience and youth played a part in it. This group was predominantly freshmen and sophomores getting to know each other, and getting to know how we have to win.
"That's part of experience -- being in tough situations and collectively figuring out how we're going to win."
That the Hoyas weren't able to follow up victories like the ones they pulled off at Connecticut, at home against Syracuse and late in the season at Villanova was concerning to Thompson, but something he hopes his team can learn from as it continues to grow up on the job.
"I don't know if we reacted well," Thompson said. "But I think one of the lessons we learned last year is it's a long year, and you never can have -- and this is my philosophy -- too many highs or too many lows. When things are going well, you don't need to pretend like you're on top of the world, and when you hit a rough spell, the sky isn't falling in, either. And so just that even-keelness is something we can regain a little bit of, and understand that it's important."
Thompson is clearly hoping the lessons his Hoyas learned last season stick with them early this year, as he's again lined up a challenging non-conference schedule that includes Butler in the Jimmy V Classic, Washington in the John Wooden Classic and unusual road games at Savannah State (former Georgetown guard Horace Broadnax coaches there) and at Tulane.
"Interesting or stupid?" asked Thompson with a laugh, referring to his scheduling this season. "I wanted to get out there so we can find a sense of who we are, so we can possibly hit a little bit of adversity and learn to respond, and learn to fight back. You look at the week where we play Butler and then Washington -- well, that's a league week. You're going to have to play Syracuse and then go play Villanova, and you can't get too excited or down, win or lose, on one day because you have to immediately process that game, learn from that game, and then get ready for the next game.
"So I think that our preseason schedule is going to be challenging. And this group is still young. We still don't have any seniors on the team. We're experienced, but we're still young. We'll see how we respond."
The Hoyas also wrap up their four-year deal with Duke with a game at the Verizon Center once again during the Big East portion of their schedule.
"In my perfect world, it would not be during the Big East season," said Thompson. "But because of the [arena] restrictions we have, and trying to get it on television, it ended up right in the middle of the season."
The bottom line for Thompson is he's trying to prepare his team as best he can for the rigors of Big East play once January hits.
"There's no doubt. And I think you have to do that because of our conference," he said. "Some leagues for the most part, most of the teams play the same way. You say, 'Oh, we're going to play this conference, we're going to experience this type of basketball.' In the Big East, you have zone teams, you have man teams, you have transition teams, you have post teams -- every style of basketball at a high level. So we have to be ready for that. In the preseason we'll see every style of basketball."
PG-CHRIS WRIGHT (6-1, 201 lbs., JR, #4, 12.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 32.9 mpg, .482 FG, .323 3PT, .724 FT, St. John's College HS/Washington, D.C.). Wright's freshman season was almost a complete washout, as he suffered a severe ankle sprain that cost him the entire Big East regular season. He returned for the postseason but clearly wasn't the same player. Yet as much as he could have helped the Hoyas then, they were already in great hands with Wallace running the show, and Jessie Sapp backing up.
Last season, Georgetown had no such leeway. Sapp was back, but he didn't possess the tremendous physical tools Wright does. But as a sophomore, Wright proved to be both durable, averaging 32.9 minutes in 31 games, and productive, leading the Hoyas by averaging 3.8 assists per game and finishing third in both scoring and three-pointers (31).
With Sapp now gone, Wright must again take another step forward toward becoming Georgetown's unquestioned leader in the backcourt.
"He has to make the growth and the step and the progression from sophomore year to junior year, and he has to step up into a leadership role this year on the court and off the court. But he's ready for that," Thompson said. "It's something that he's prepared himself for, mentally and physically. But it's a different role, a new role for him, also."
To this point, Wright has gotten things done primarily because of his athleticism; his quickness, strength and leaping ability are all above average. He also doesn't register as a either a traditional pass-first or shoot-first point guard, but can do both pretty darned well, Thompson believes.
"I don't think he's limited," said Thompson. "Can he run the team? Absolutely. Can he score? Yes. I don't think those two are exclusive -- you have to do one or do the other. You look down through the years, we've had guards -- be it Jon Wallace or even Jessie Sapp -- who have been able to run the team but at the same time score.
"I think with last year under his belt, Chris has made and will continue to make that progression and get that understanding. I think he's going to have a big year for us."
SG-AUSTIN FREEMAN (6-4, 239 lbs., JR, #15, 11.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.9 spg, 30.4 mpg, .482 FG, .306 3PT, .755 FT, DeMatha HS/Hyattsville, Md.). Thompson has never been one to pigeonhole his players. That being said, there is probably no one else on the Hoyas' roster who is as well-positioned -- athletically and experience-wise -- as Freeman to replace the many things Summers did a season ago.
While he's four inches shorter than Summers, he weighs three pounds more (at least according to Georgetown's summer roster) and is every bit as strong. And while he's listed as a guard, the term 'hybrid' might better suit him, because Freeman is able to do myriad things on the court.
"Austin Freeman is someone that we're going to need to bring a lot to the table in every aspect of the game," Thompson said. "I think he's someone that's going to have to score for us. He's someone that's going to have to be a reliable defender. He's someone that's going to have to rebound for us. So he's going to have a lot of responsibility. And, like I said about Chris, I think he's ready and waiting for that chance."
Much has been made of Freeman's stocky build over the last two seasons; he more closely resembles an NFL fullback than a basketball player. By the same token, there have always been questions about Freeman's conditioning, and whether he's willing to pay the price in the weight room.
Thompson said the junior's maturity level and focus took a step forward over the summer, and that he fully intends on using his physical strength to become one of the Hoyas' strengths this season.
"We plan on making that a factor this year," he said. "He can be a tough match-up because he can go down low and he's strong, and he can hold you off. And yet he can really score. And so that's going to be something that we're going to have to utilize.
"I think he has done a great job in the off-season with his strength and conditioning; Austin has dropped weight. I don't know how much, but his body looks different right now -- significantly different right now than it did at the end of last season. He's someone, as much as anyone, who's looked hungry this summer -- OK, that's a bad analogy. But he's worked."
SF-HOLLIS THOMPSON (6-6, 180 lbs., FR, #1, 14.0 ppg, De La Salle HS/Concord, Calif.). Last season, for the first time in Thompson's coaching career, he had a high-school player enroll for the second semester and spend that time going to class and working with the team. That player was Thompson, a highly regarded and hotly recruited wing man whose natural talents combined with the jump-start he received make him an odds-on favorite to start.
"You cannot at all," said Thompson, the coach, when asked if he could put a price on the experience the freshman picked up by enrolling early. You're looking at someone who's great -- he has such a jump on things. He knows what we're doing and how we're doing it. He literally, between the time when he got here in January and right now, maybe more so than Greg, he's bulked up.
"But just the understanding, where he goes to a semester of practice. You're able to learn the language, the way we talk, you're able to understand the routine, able to pick up what's expected and not expected. He's not walking in the door this year bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as all freshmen normally do. And so it's been invaluable."
The coach also had plenty of praise for Thompson's selflessness; by enrolling early he was unable to participate in any of the prep all-star games -- like the McDonald's All-American game -- that most big-time youngsters play. That aside, Thompson should be able to make an immediate impact for Georgetown in a number of different areas.
"He is someone who can put the ball in the basket. Hollis can shoot. Hollis can make shots," Thompson said. "Hollis has a competitiveness about him that our team needs. Because of his length, I think he has the ability to guard different positions. I think he can guard down or guard up. He is a freshman, hasn't played a game, but he's gone through a semester and a summer of practices and then workouts."
PF-HENRY SIMS (6-10, 226 lbs., SO, #30, 1.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.6 bpg, 9.8 mpg, .404 FG, .167 3PT, .588 FT, Mount St. Joseph HS/Baltimore, Md.). Sims received a decent amount of on-the-job training as a freshman, but he will need to step his game up considerably this season as he's expected to line up regularly alongside Monroe.
His game highs of eight points and seven rebounds last season don't scream impact player, but Sims has more than enough athletic ability to make an impact. He's also got a knack for positively impacting the game, says Thompson, and can hold the fort for a bit at the five if need be when the coach is looking to get Monroe a quick blow.
"Good things happened when Henry was in the game last year. Consistently, good things happened when he was on the floor," said Thompson. "He's going to get the opportunity this year to be on the floor a whole lot more, and so he's going to have to maintain that consistency. He goes from a freshman where we put them out there and hope they don't mess up to a sophomore that we're depending on. He's active. The ball finds a way to fall into his hands a lot, and he comes up with a rebound."
Also helping Sims is the fact that he is an above-average passer, making him a perfect fit in Thompson's offense.
"Henry is one of the better passers we have on our team; he has a knack for getting the ball where it should be," Thompson said. "He's ready to step up. He understands."
C-GREG MONROE (6-11, 250 lbs., SO, #10, 12.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.5 bpg, .572 FG, .333 3PT, .700 FT, Helen Cox HS/New Orleans, La.). The top prep post prospect in the nation arrived at Georgetown with corresponding expectations. For the most part, Monroe delivered, becoming the sixth Hoya to earn Big East Rookie-of-the-Year honors, and first since Jeff Green did it in 2004-05.
Monroe was one of Georgetown's most consistent offensive performers, scoring in double figures 27 times, as well as its leading rebounder, shot blocker and even steals man. He also proved to be a perfect fit in Thompson's hybrid Princeton-style offense because of his ability to pass the basketball; his 79 assists ranked him second on the team only to Wright.
His size, athletic ability and production all figured to translate to Monroe being yet another one-and-done col-legiate big man. But after doing some initial investigation, he chose to return to the Hoyas for at least one more season. Improve at the same rate he did over the course of last season, and Monroe should be, along with Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, one of the favorites to win Big East Player-of-the-Year honors, plus a lock as to be a top-three pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
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"Greg from the beginning had the opportunity to be drafted, and drafted pretty high. But with that being said, I think he's an honest person," said Thompson. "When he looks in the mirror I think he has aspirations not just to be a pro, but to be a good pro. I think a lot of players feel, 'I can be a pro now, so I can come out.' I think Greg realizes for him to be a good pro, he needs some work. He needs to get better in a lot of different areas.
"It wasn't like I spent or he spent too much time in deep contemplation, or I'm sitting here on pins and needles. We went through the educational process, and he said, 'I want to come back to school.' On top of the basketball component of it, he likes school. He likes being here at Georgetown."
When pressed for specific areas in which Monroe needs to improve upon as far as his game goes, Thompson didn't hesitate.
"Offense and defense. It's that simple," he said. "I think he's one of these people that's extremely blessed and fortunate that he can be good at so many things on the basketball court. But then that becomes a responsibility to himself and to his team to be good at everything. He has to get stronger. As the year wore on, he wore down. And so he has to become stronger. He's put in the time in the weight room. I wish I could say he's 20 or 30 pounds heavier. I don't know what it is, but I know he's bigger.
"After that, it's literally everything. I think he can be better in the post, I think he can be better on the perimeter. Defensively he can be more of a presence. Every aspect. That's the responsibility that he has -- to improve on every aspect of his game."
Thompson also said he expects Monroe to become a stronger presence as far as leadership goes.
"There's no doubt, and I think he's ready for that and he understands that," said Thompson. "You come in as a freshman with a lot of attention, and I think he handled that freshman year well. Now he's moving from a freshman who's thrown into the fire to now he's a sophomore who is going to be one of the leaders on the team, and not just a focal point in terms of on-the-court play, but we need him to be a presence in terms of his presence in the locker room, up in the dorms and around campus."
G-JASON CLARK (6-2, 176 lbs., SO, #21, 5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.6 spg, 18.3 mpg, .496 FG, .340 3PT, .833 FT, Bishop O'Connell HS/Arlington, Va.). Clark came in as something of an under-the-radar recruit last season as a freshman, but by the end of the year had carved out a niche for himself by coming off the bench and providing whatever the Hoyas might need at the time.
Expect that role to increase this season with the graduation of Sapp, as well as the evolution of Clark's all-around game. Clark played 31 games without a start as a freshman; don't be shocked to see him in the starting lineup at some point as a sophomore.
"We play with more energy when Jason, Henry and Hollis are on the court," said Thompson. "We come up with more loose balls. Jason, you talk about hard-nosed. He's skinny as a whip but he's tough, he's strong and he competes. He does the dirty things that a lot of people don't want to do, and that this team needs. And coupled with that, he can score.
"The two people from last year that the world will see significant strides from, I think, are going to be Henry [Sims] and also Jason. He played a very similar role to Henry last year when he was out there. But we're de-pending on them this year and they understand that, they know that, and I think they're ready for that role, that responsibility."
F-JULIAN VAUGHN (6-9, 246 lbs., JR, #22, 1.8 ppg, 1.7 ppg, 0.6 apg, 0.6 bpg, 8.8 mpg, .457 FG, .000 3PT, .545 FT, Florida State/Oak Hill Academy/Oak Hill, Va.). It was believed Vaughn would make an instant impact for the Hoyas last season, after he transferred in from Florida State for personal reasons and was cleared to play immediately by the NCAA rather than sit out a red-shirt year. But the transition proved to be a tough one for Vaughn, and he wound up as a bit player instead of a significant contributor.
This season, with a year's worth of experience behind him and a greater need for contributions, Vaughn should be a better and more comfortable player. His strengths at this point are rebounding and shot blocking.
"When Julian transferred he was able to compete right away, but I think a lot of people forgot that he was a freshman [in terms of experience]," Thompson said. "Yes, he had competed at the ACC level, but relative to what was expected of him here, what we needed him to do here, he was learning all anew. So he went through the same growth process and had the same learning curve that a lot of freshmen go through.
"I think we'll see a much more settled Julian Vaughn this year, a much more comfortable Julian Vaughn this year, a much more confident Julian Vaughn this year."
G/F-NIKITA MESCHERIAKOV (6-8, 215 lbs., JR, #5, 2.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.4 spg, 13.9 mpg, .344 FG, .262 3PT, .571 FT, St. John's Prospect Hall/Frederick, Md.). Early last season, Mescheriakov was buried deep on the bench, playing spot minutes in some games and not even seeing the court in eight others. But all that changed in Cincinnati, the game in which Summers went down with the ankle injury.
Mescheriakov wound up playing 25 minutes in relief, then a career high, and responded by pulling down seven rebounds. He was a fixture in Thompson's rotation from that point forth, and figures to be once again this season. Although he shot just 26.2 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, he may well be the Hoyas' best perimeter shooter heading into this season.
His ability to knock down open shots and rebound will be crucial.
"I think that he's skilled enough that he can wear different hats," Thompson said. "At the end of the day, Nikita can make shots when we need him to make shots. And also at the end of the day, Nikita is an unselfish player that does a good job of helping his teammates out. So we need him to do that. But when he's open, the ball's going to go in."
F-JERELLE BENIMON (6-7, 242 lbs., FR, #20, 21.0 ppg, 17.0 rpg, 7.0 apg, 4.0 bpg, 1.6 spg, Fauquier HS/Warrenton, Va.). Benimon put up some huge numbers in high school but didn't play AAU basketball because of injuries. As a result, he had only three Division I scholarship offers: Georgetown, Old Dominion and Longwood.
Thompson is high on Benimon's long-term potential on the wing, but it's not likely he'll be able to contribute much as a freshman as he attempts to get up to speed at the Division I level.
"Jerelle is a big, strong kid. He's got a body walking in the door that DaJuan had walking out the door," Thompson said. "Big, strong kid. How is he going to respond when the lights come on? He has the skill set and the toughness that he's going to play. He really rebounds. Physically, he's able to play right now."
G-VEE SANFORD (6-3, 175 lbs., FR, #11, 22.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.5 spg, Lexington Catholic HS, Lex-ington, Ky.). Thompson was able to pull Sanford, a highly regarded combination guard, out of the Bluegrass State. His strength is considered to be shooting the basketball, but he might also be able to lend a helping hand with ball-handling duties as time goes on.
"He's similar to Jason, if I had to make a comparison," Thompson said. "He'll do all the dirty things. He'll be the first one to dive on the floor."
Thompson thinks Benimon and Sanford will be able to make contributions to the Hoyas this season, even if they come mostly in practice early.
"They're both tough, walking in here with a chip on their shoulders," he said. "The toughness will help both of them, and it'll help us."
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Talent wasn't an issue for the Hoyas last season and won't be again this season, although they'll have just 11 scholarship players with which to work. What it likely will come down to this season is how much the major contributors from last year's team learned from the ups and downs they went through, and what they need to do to keep things on a more even keel.
A challenging non-conference schedule featuring neutral-site and road games should help prepare them for what lies ahead in the Big East. Monroe is good enough to make a difference by himself, Wright and Freeman are on the verge of living up to their McDonald's All-American reputations and Hollis Thompson could be in line to make some big contributions as a freshman.
A finish in the upper tier of the Big East standings certainly isn't too much to ask for out of this talented group. Neither will be a return to the NCAA Tournament after the Hoyas' one-year absence. In fact, both should be expected.
"I think that the struggles we had last year have brought them a lot closer as we head into this year -- and that's not to say they weren't close last year," said Thompson. "When you look at our group last year, Greg was a freshman, Chris Wright was a sophomore but he was hurt most of his freshman year, and in many ways he was going through the league for the first time last year. Austin had some experience, but then he had to take on a different role than he did his freshman year.
"So it's a growth process. It's a learning process. We took steps, so hopefully last year was a building block for what we're hopefully going to do this year."
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 334 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2009-10 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.