More than anything else, the 2008-09 Georgetown Hoyas seem to be associated with absence.
Seven-foot center Roy Hibbert? Gone. Heady, steady point guard Jonathan Wallace? So long. Big East Sixth-Man of the Year Patrick Ewing Jr.? Adios.
Tyler Crawford also graduated, while the Hoyas likewise waved goodbye to transfers Vernon Macklin (Florida) and Jeremiah Rivers (Indiana).
The loss of that senior class and the pair of defections have most college hoops prognosticators assuming this year’s Georgetown team will take a step back from the past three seasons, a stretch that comprised the most successful years for the program since Allen Iverson left for the NBA. While losing those players will not make the Hoyas better, it will give the players that remain a chance to stamp their signature on the program. And that signature should look markedly different from the Hibbert-Wallace era.
The previous seasons have been characterized by the Hoyas’ deliberate offensive pace, making the most out of each possession and draining the shot clock before sending the ball to the rim. This season, expect that plodding pace to be punctuated by some opportunistic fast breaking led by the fleet-footed Chris Wright. Wright inherits the keys to the offense from Wallace and will be paired with senior Jessie Sapp in the backcourt.
A foot injury shelved Wright for the majority of Georgetown’s Big East schedule, but when he returned during the Big East Tournament, his impact was immediately felt (four assists and 2-of-3 from behind the arc coming off the bench against Villanova). When he handles the ball, Wright – a former McDonald’s All-American – has a high gear that Wallace never did and this year he’ll have some teammates that can keep pace, namely stud freshman Greg Monroe.
Monroe, a 6-foot-11 center with a deft passing touch, uncanny shot-blocking ability and supreme overall athleticism, comes to Georgetown as the most-vaunted recruit, again, since Iverson. Another McDonald’s All-American, Monroe was once regarded as the top high school senior of 2008 and is exactly what JTIII has been looking for.
Ever since John Thompson III set up shop at Georgetown, he’s been bound by Hibbert’s less-than-lightning-like movements down the court. To be sure, Hibbert was far from a burden, but JTIII has never had the benefit of a mobile big man with the versatile skill set that Monroe possesses.
Monroe will be a potent weapon in an arsenal that already includes two starters from Georgetown’s 2006-07 Final Four run – Jesse Sapp and DaJuan Summers.
This needs to be the year Summers steps forward and delineates himself as a team leader. Summers has the ceiling to be an All-Conference player, but he’s still learning to be that star. Too often he settles for shots on the perimeter (149 last season) and meets with mixed results (.342 3PT%).
Summers will need to be a better decision maker, and now that he and Sapp are this team’s leaders, he must lead by example. That’s something Sapp has often been able to do in the past, particularly in enemy territory.
Most remember Patrick Ewing Jr.’s game-saving block as the pivotal play that gave the Hoyas a win at West Virginia last season. It was Sapp’s gutsy three-pointer just prior to that moment that provided the winning margin. A year earlier at Villanova, Sapp scored 16 while GU struggled to get Roy Hibbert a shot inside, including a three-and-a-half-minute stretch in the second half in which he scored nine points to bring the Hoyas from six down to two up.
Add sophomore Austin Freeman, who started for most of his freshman season, to this mix and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Hoyas are about to begin a new era of excellence.
There are sure to be tripping points, particularly in the rough-and-tumble Big East, a conference that could snag a record nine bids for the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoyas will have to earn any respect that comes their way this season, but they have the players to compete for a third-straight regular season championship in the toughest conference in the country.
DaJuan Summers, Jessie Sapp, Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, Greg Monroe – this group won’t make anyone forget about the core of Hibbert, Wallace, Ewing Jr. and Jeff Green that led the renaissance of Hoya hoops. But they could very well make a few sweet memories of their own.