This season, the Hoyas’ hopes hinge on seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims, players that were viewed four years ago as nice complementary pieces in a consensus top-ten recruiting class. The star of that group was a smooth, sweet-passing, program-changing big man from Louisiana—current Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe.
This year would have been Monroe’s senior season at Georgetown. But after a disappointing finish in 2010, Monroe left college for the NBA. After starting his rookie season on the bench, Monroe soon established himself as the team’s premier big man, averaging 13.7 points and 10 rebounds per game after the All-Star break to earn a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
“I just wanted to make sure I got better every day,” Monroe said in an interview with the Voice. “Whether I was playing and regardless of the record, I just made sure I was ready to contribute to the team and help the Pistons win.”
Since leaving the District, Monroe has continued to work and improve—both academically and athletically. He was back on campus this summer, honing his game while taking classes full-time to finish his degree. This dual work ethic is something he has prided himself on since his days as a basketball standout and National Honor Society member at Helen Cox High School in New Orleans.
Georgetown fans got to witness the results of Monroe’s work ethic for the two years he spent on the Hilltop, when he kept the team afloat during his freshman season and led it on a dramatic run to the Big East Tournament finals in his sophomore campaign.
“Those two years were the most fun of my life,” he said. “There’s never a time in your life like college, no matter what you do when you finish.”
Perhaps his nostalgia plays a role in it, but Monroe’s days on the Hilltop are far from numbered, between continuing to work on his degree and being on campus to work out with the team and play in Kenner League games this summer.
“It just felt great being back, just being a student again,” Monroe said. “I went to college to finish, so I’m working to do whatever it takes to get that done.”
Few Hoya fans can fault the 6-foot-11 center for leaving when he did. Like college recruiters before them, NBA scouts drooled over Monroe’s basketball intelligence, court vision and mobility, traits rarely witnessed in players with such a formidable frame. Through it all, Monroe stayed humble, a trait he attributes to his mother, Norma, who raised Greg and his sister on her own.
“She did whatever it took to take care of me and my sister,” Monroe said. “She worked two jobs and made sure that whatever we needed, we got it. As a son, it was right that I paid her back in some sort of the way. Part of that is finishing my degree, it’s something she really wanted me to do.”
For those reasons, Monroe doesn’t regret his decision to leave Georgetown early, but he often thinks about how things would be if he were still a Georgetown basketball player, set to graduate with two of his best friends, Sims and Clark.
“Both of them are like two brothers I found when I got to college,” Monroe said. “I want the best for both of them. This year, I expect great things out of both of them.”
Having spent time working with them this summer, Monroe believes the two seniors can lead the team’s group of five freshmen—a group whose potential he is high on.
“They have size, skill, versatility, and just play hard,” he said. “I watched them practice. I saw them play the whole summer. I was in the weight room with them. They work really hard and I think they’ll step right in. Like most freshmen, they’ll probably have their growing pains, but by the time the season swings in fully they’ll be fine.”
As for his own prospects, Monroe just wants to get back to playing with the Pistons. He’s itching to work with new head coach Lawrence Frank, whom he still hasn’t even met because players and coaches are barred from interacting during the NBA lockout. Monroe’s only knowledge of Frank is from what he’s read about the coach, but he believes the Pistons can improve drastically from their 30-52 finish last season.
“I just want [the lockout] to be over,” he said. “I have trust and faith on our players’ union and the player reps in those rooms. They have the best interests for us. I’m sitting back and staying prepared.”
Monroe’s ready to go. Pistons fans should take note – if the big man’s transition to his sophomore year is anything like it was in his college days, they are in for quite a treat.