Since their magical run to the 2007 Final Four, the Hoyas have entered each preseason burdened by expectations. Analysts and fans have tempered their excitement a bit after four years of first-round tournament exits, but this year’s squad maintains its confident attitude—they expect to win.
This Georgetown team certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of talent or toughness, as both are found in great measure from their two senior leaders all the way down to their five talented freshmen. Rather, the Hoyas suffer from a lack of experience, setting them up as the perfect underdog—at least that’s what senior guard Jason Clark thinks.
“We are being doubted a lot from who we lost and our tournament losses,” Clark said. “So we are really the underdogs. We have nothing to lose.”
For last year’s Hoyas, the script was supposedly perfect. They brought back established veterans in Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Julian Vaughn. Freeman and Wright shouldered the bulk of the scoring for those Hoyas, but they still disappointed with a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament to an upstart VCU team that eventually made it to the Final Four.
This season, it’s hard to know what to expect. The Hoyas have viable scoring threats in Clark and junior guard Hollis Thompson. Unlike years past, though, no preseason accolades have been handed to the team. With 10 underclassmen on the roster, all of their respect this season will have to be earned in 40 minute increments on the hardwood.
“We aren’t really excited about what people are saying about us and whatever predictions are out there … I don’t think we are going to pay attention to them,” sophomore forward Nate Lubick said. “Everyone looks at what we lost, but we gained a lot too. Everyone has gotten a lot better, and we are very excited.”
Part of Lubick’s impression is related to the team’s trip to China in early August. Although the team’s brawl with the Bayi Rockets attracted intense media scrutiny, the early work for this new group will pay dividends as they open the season, a sentiment echoed by their head coach.
“Being a part of that, going through that experience, I do think it has helped expedite the coming-together process of this team,” head coach John Thompson III said. “Quite literally, they realized you have to have each other’s’ back. Our ability to fight—pun intended—relies on our ability to lean on each other.”
In the rugged Big East, the ability to claw inside will be crucial for the Hoyas. Led by Lubick and senior center Henry Sims, who placed more of an emphasis on his physicality this summer, the Hoyas are blessed with good depth in the frontcourt. Four of the five members of their freshman class stand at least 6-foot-7, providing the team with fresh bodies after forward Jerelle Benimon and guard Vee Sanford transferred in the offseason.
Thompson emphasized that, unlike in years past, there are no defined roles on this team, and everyone on the roster has an equal opportunity to step up.
“I anticipate that we may be a little deeper than last year’s team,” the coach said. “We never have been averse to playing freshmen that are ready to play.”
Two of those freshmen, forward Otto Porter and combo guard Jabril Trawick, proved themselves throughout this summer’s Kenner League and the team’s trip to China. Porter, the team’s most highly touted newcomer, will receive ample playing time alongside Thompson and Clark this season. Meanwhile, Trawick continues to shine with his rare combination of toughness and athleticism, which may land him considerable time in a relatively thin backcourt.
That backcourt struggled last season when Chris Wright went down with a broken hand, as the offense tended to stagnate for periods under then-freshman Markel Starks. Georgetown’s signature Princeton offense is predicated on strong point guard play, which the Hoyas received in Thompson’s early days from Jonathan Wallace and through his successor, Wright.
According to the eighth year coach, Starks has improved his comfort level in the system and is prepared to follow in those lofty footsteps through the rigors of Big East play, a notion reflected by many of his teammates.
“Markel is talented as they get and he is a very, very vocal leader,” Lubick said. “We are really excited of him being the point guard of our team this year and we are going to go as he goes.”
With Starks in the backcourt and Sims and company handling the paint, the main question remains: who will put the ball in the basket? Over their years at Georgetown, both Clark and Thompson have proven to be electric at times, though neither has been expected to contribute in a consistent fashion—until now. Clark fully expects to bounce back from his late-season shooting slump last season, and Thompson is prepared to shoulder more of the load himself. With the composition of this year’s roster, instead of playing as third guards or hybrid forwards, both players can play as natural two-guards, focusing on their offensive capabilities.
No matter who steps up for the Hoyas, they will be led by their trio of upperclassmen: Sims, Clark, and Thompson. All three had reputations as quiet on the court, but they have transitioned well into newfound leadership roles, at least according to their teammates. After hanging in the shadows, this season marks their time to shine.
“For me and Jason especially, we haven’t gotten to the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, that kind of thing,” Sims said. “You never want to leave a place without your name being remembered, and that plays a big part in it.”
For Sims and the rest of the team, their expectation is to win every time they step out on the court. Fans should prepare themselves for another rollercoaster season, one where they watch a group looking to turn a lot of heads and regain that former Hoya Paranoia with their gritty, inspired play.
No matter how the season goes, Clark is committed to shouldering the burden of leadership for the team.
“Whatever my coaches ask me to do, I am not going to make excuses for anything or say that I am tired, or that I can’t do this, or I am hurt,” he said. “It’s never going to be that, I go out there and do what I am supposed to do.”