As far as prolific recruiting classes go, the four freshmen that took the court for the Georgetown Hoyas in 2004-05 did not appear particularly remarkable at first inspection. The big gangly dude was 7-foot-2, but still managed to miss layups a foot from the hoop. The short kid was a walk-on, an Ivy League-caliber guard who some assumed got lucky when the coach that recruited him to Princeton took the job at Georgetown. Another freshman had hair that made him look like the Predator. None of them even rated in the Rivals.com rankings of the top 150 incoming freshmen.
After years of Georgetown mediocrity, the sparsely populated Hoya home crowd of 6,320 at the 2004 season opener welcomed this dubious-looking group with skepticism, then watched as Temple drubbed the Hoyas to the tune of a 75-57 final.
Four years later, a lot has changed.
As Georgetown's seniors step onto the court at Verizon Center for the final time Saturday, they will begin the final chapter of the greatest sea-change in Hoya hoops since the elder John Thompson first took the reigns in 1972. For a program that nearly missed the Big East Tournament prior to the arrival of this year's seniors, a second-straight Big East regular season title would make for one heck of a send off. But win or lose, this senior class has already left the Hoya faithful a plethora of parting gifts, among them a Big East Tournament title and trips to the Sweet 16 and Final Four.
Before this year's senior class arrived at Georgetown, along with Head Coach John Thompson III, it appeared all of those achievements would elude the program indefinitely. That appearance changed drastically on Jan. 21, 2006. On that day, the Hoyas toppled the No. 1 team in the nation, besting the Duke Blue Devils, 87-84, in front of an electric home crowd at Verizon Center. The previously apathetic fans have flocked to home games ever since.
During the course of the Duke game, Wallace, the aforementioned “Ivy League-caliber guard,” shed all inaccurate preconceptions and blossomed into a Big East All-Star. Midway through the first half, with Duke leading 22-20, Wallace scored the Hoyas' next seven points, including a ridiculously athletic reverse layup to elude Duke shot-blocking center Shelden Williams. The Hoyas took a 27-23 lead and never lost it.
It was the first time that Wallace amazed me. It wouldn't be the last. Last March, the “Rainmaker” from Harvest, Ala., drained the game-tying three-pointer against North Carolina to send the game to overtime and, ultimately, Georgetown to the Final Four.
Yeah, a lot changed alright.
Today, Wallace, the Ivy League tag-along, is the Hoyas' all-time three-point shooting leader, having started every game since his arrival.
By now everyone is familiar with how the gangly “Big Stiff” morphed into Roy Hibbert, the dominant post player who outplayed wunderkind Greg Oden in last year's Final Four. Not even Optimus Prime could pull off a transformation like that.
Early in his career, Hibbert couldn't even run properly. Now his deft shooting touch inside the paint, and from the top of the arc, has made him a star. Heck, Hibbert is so beloved that when students scream his name they then repeat it three times, in triplicate, to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.” How many other All-Americans have their own theme song?
Another member of that freshman class, who to this point has gone unmentioned, may well have been the most important. Tyler Crawford, who bears the nickname “Bam Bam” for his aggressive defense, has long been touted by Thompson III as one of the most vital pieces in the equation of recent success. It's been said that Crawford's intensity in practice has made the rough and tumble Big East seem mild by comparison. Those practices may well have given the Hoyas the poise they needed to compile a 27-6 conference record over the past two years. And Crawford's contributions on the court shouldn't be overlooked. Most recently his three-pointer against Providence ignited a 14-2 Georgetown run that paced the Hoyas past the upset-minded Friars on Feb. 18.
And then came the final piece — Patrick Ewing Jr. Ewing transferred from Indiana in 2005, taking the bold step of following in his father's footsteps. However, the younger Ewing blazed his own trail at Georgetown, emerging as arguably the top sixth man in the nation. He's blocked shots, hit the floor for loose balls, given dance lessons to NFL legend Jerry Rice and used a reverse dunk against Boston College in last year's NCAA Tournament to dispel Jared Dudley's belief that the ACC was more athletic than the Big East.
The energy Ewing brings to the game is nuclear, so much so that the U.S. would do well to keep him out of the desirous hands of Iran and North Korea.
Oh, and that kid with the Predator-like locks, Jeff Green, he cut the coif but lost none of the killer instinct. The game-winning daggers he used to slay Villanova, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt are evidence enough of that.
Green likely won't be on the court this Saturday, departing early as an NBA Lottery Pick, but even with his absence, the contributions of this senior class will be readily apparent. And in case anyone forgets, the Final Four banner hanging from Verizon's rafters and the hordes of student spectators ought to serve as ample reminders. John Thompson III's guiding hand has played an equally large role in Georgetown's renaissance, but Saturday will be the seniors' day. JTIII will no doubt stand right alongside a grateful, gray-clad crowd to give them a very well deserved “Thank You.”