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Sports Sermon: Whittington the unsung key for Hoyas
Unprompted praise from an opponent. In life, it comes rarely enough. In the sporting world it’s almost unheard of, which is what made Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean’s praise of Georgetown sophomore Greg Whittington last week slightly surprising.
“I think Whittington is one of the underrated, undervalued future stars in college basketball,” he said. “Everyone knows Otto Porter right now, but Whittington is going to be tremendous.”
This is big coming from Crean, the man behind the country’s No. 1 team. But it doesn’t come out of nowhere, the 6-foot-8 guard has been a mainstay in the Georgetown rotation since his arrival on the Hilltop back in 2011. Really, the surprise is the route he took to get there.
Whittington never emerged as an elite college prospect until he turned heads during his senior season at Maryland’s Oakland Mills High School. His recruitment picked up slightly, with interest from Clemson, DePaul, and local rival Maryland. The Columbia native quietly committed to Georgetown and was, to be frank, quite the afterthought of John Thompson III’s recruiting coup that brought Otto Porter Jr. to campus.
But the potential was always there, as Whittington emerged with the All-Met Player of the Year award as a senior, averaging 23.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, 3.0 steals, and 2.7 assists. For Thompson, Whittington’s recruitment is just another example of his line of thinking. A lengthy guard or forward who could potentially play three positions was quite unconventional only a couple of years ago. It’s a testament to innovative thinking that, according to Thompson, it’s now the standard around the Hilltop.
As with Porter’s relative obscurity last season, Whittington has flown largely under the radar for over a season now. After all, his freshman campaign was largely predicated on the defensive end, where he shut down smaller guards with his seemingly endless wingspan. Every so often, he would take the Hoyas out of an offensive rut with a three, but that’s about all we got.
And so this season has been a trial by fire for Whittington—given the starting role and a laundry list of responsibilities from Thompson, he just had to be a top contributor for the Hoyas to have success this season.
“Greg Whittington has a lot of responsibility this year,” Thompson said after the sophomore picked up 15 rebounds in a full 40 minutes against Duquesne. “Some days he looks at that responsibility as a burden, but it is what it is. He has a lot of responsibility to do a lot of different things for us. Most days he’s going to have a very difficult defensive assignment, he’s going to have to rebound the way he did today, he’s going to have to have to get his teammates shots, and he’s going to have to score.”
He has been able to contribute in that manner without all the brouhaha surrounding Porter. Ironically enough, though, it was Porter’s absence from the lineup after suffering a mild concussion that initially thrust Whittington into the spotlight. Since then, they have been part of a balanced Hoya attack on both sides of the ball—spreading the scoring load around while utilizing that length on the defensive side. But the two players have co-starred in spearheading these efforts, filling up the stat sheets thus far this season. For Whittington, it’s something he always knew he would need to do.
“Gotta be a leader from day one,” he said back in October. “Gotta teach these freshman, these young bucks, how to work hard and get ready for the season. It’s not going to be easy. There are no easy games this year so we gotta be ready.”
His newfound leadership role is plenty evident on the defensive end, where he has taken charge of communicating with his teammates. Of course, this has been a gripe with Thompson of his young squad, but even he understands that it’s a work in progress.
He has certainly given Whittington plenty of time to do so, as he leads the team in minutes with an astronomical 38.6. For a guard, so to speak, those minutes and a team-high 9.0 rebounds per contest are pretty rare. But for opponents, the Howard County native simply turns Georgetown into a matchup nightmare.
Whittington , since freshman year, signs off Twitter before most games with “HoCo on my back”, a reference to his native Howard County. Funny enough, just a few games into his sophomore year, he has the Hoyas on his back too.