When Patrick Ewing played center for the Georgetown Hoyas, he had one job: dominate inside. Ewing was directed to grab every rebound, pound bodies with opposing centers, and play above the rim. When games got testy, as they often did in the early 1980s, the team counted on Ewing as a physical enforcer any time an opponent entered the paint.
Three decades later, the center remains the most important position for Coach Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas, although junior Jessie Govan will operate in a different manner. Throughout his first two years with the Hoyas, Govan has shown that his offensive prowess extends beyond the 15-foot radius around the rim. Despite limited playing time, Govan shot 50 percent on threes his freshman year before falling back to Earth and shooting a still-impressive 40 percent from behind the arc his sophomore year.
While Govan’s play differs from Ewing’s, both are effective styles, and Ewing believes that Govan will be one of the main contributors in an offense he is integrating from his years as an assistant coach in the NBA.
“Jessie is one of the keys for our success. If he does not step up and have a great year for us, we won’t be successful,” Ewing said.
Despite the attention given to the junior center, this is the first year that Govan will begin the season in the starting lineup.
After arriving on the Hilltop, Govan was met with lofty expectations, and fans speculated he might start at center, an open position at the time. In the first few games, however, Govan played behind Bradley Hayes, a senior on the team who made limited contributions over his first three years. When Hayes began the 2015-16 season with a handful of promising displays, Govan stayed on the bench as a backup.
A few weeks into the season, Hayes injured his hand in practice and underwent surgery. Suddenly, Govan was thrust into the starting five in the middle of Georgetown’s first losing season under former head coach John Thompson III.
“I just had to be ready,” Govan said in the aftermath. “Everybody has to be ready. Everybody has to because Brad was such an important part to this team, so we’ve just got to step it up until he gets back. I’ve been playing a good amount of minutes to where I’m comfortable on the court with these guys. I’m just ready to step in there and make an impact.”
At the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, it was clear that some changes needed to be made. Fans were hopeful that with a year of experience under his belt, the next three seasons would feature the growth of Jessie Govan as a staple of the team.
Then, at the end of the year banquet, Thompson announced that Hayes had received a medical redshirt, and would be eligible for a fifth year in a Hoyas uniform. Govan would once again be left coming off the bench behind the graduate student. Despite this, Govan increased his minutes and scoring, averaging 10.1 points per game, making him the third highest scorer on the team behind graduate guard Rodney Pryor and junior guard L.J. Peak. Now, without either of those players, more of Georgetown’s offense will run through the 6-foot-10 center.
Govan, a four-star recruit from the Wings Academy in New York City, was always meant to be a focal point of the team. On the recruiting trail, he was courted by basketball powerhouses such as Louisville, Notre Dame, and even Georgetown rival Syracuse. His rookie class included fellow juniors guard/forward Kaleb Johnson and forward Marcus Derrickson, who are also expected to contribute more in the coming year. Johnson noted that he and Govan share an increasing role both on and off the court.
“I’ve been here two years already,” Johnson said. “And I think some of the younger guys kind of look to me, as well as Jon [Mulmore], Jessie, and all these guys up here for leadership. So, I think we kind of make up the core group, and we all try to lead the team in the right direction.”
This team will need that leadership, given the thin experience of the senior class above Govan. Of the three seniors of the team, only forward Trey Mourning has been with Georgetown his entire collegiate career. Fellow senior guard Jonathan Mulmore and graduate student guard Trey Dickerson are transfers, and senior guard Ra’Mond Hines officially walked onto the team at the beginning of his junior year.
Beyond his experience, Jessie Govan has one of the most diverse skillsets on the roster, and is expected to lead the team in points coming into the season. Ewing has been stressing the need for Govan to get off to a strong start.
“Coach has been emphasizing [that]when I get the ball, if I get a chance, if I get a one-on-one, he wants me to put the ball in the basket. He sees my scoring ability and my teammates see it as well, so they’re looking for me to lead us this year,” Govan said.
And while Govan has established himself as a weapon in three-point territory, he is likely to play more inside the post, thanks to the tutelage of Ewing, an NBA Hall of Famer and one of the greatest big men to ever play the game. Given Ewing’s experience, Govan acknowledged the strength of the advice coming from his new coach.
“He’s a no-nonsense coach,” Govan said. “Anything he says, he’s definitely not going to say it the nicest way … it’s with a purpose. It’s all about taking the message and not listening to how he’s saying, but what he’s saying.”
And this year, Ewing’s message is clear: Get the ball to Jessie and let him make a play. The Hoyas are restarting their basketball team, and while Govan is not yet the dominant low post presence that Ewing was, his style fits the modern game. Jessie Govan might not be a bruiser, but he will be looking to leave his mark on men’s college basketball this year.