Backdoor Cuts: Goodbye to the old guard

March 24, 2011

No more than half an hour after the buzzer sounded and Georgetown’s season officially ended with a crushing 74-56 loss to Virginia Commonwealth, the Hoyas had to address the media. A visibly distressed John Thompson III took the podium in the bowels of the United Center, flanked by seniors Austin Freeman and Chris Wright.

They had little to say.

Not that there was much to say about that game, a shocking, thorough dismantling at the hands of a team whose place in the NCAA Tournament many had questioned less than a week before. Indeed, in his opening statement, Thompson bypassed what happened on the court to talk about who it happened to.

“It’s hard when you get to this point and the season’s over,” he said. “I end up thinking about players moreso than the specific game right now. We’ve got a group of seniors—Chris, Austin, Julian, and Ryan Dougherty. Four years goes fast, and they’ve given a lot and they’ve worked their behinds off. And that’s tough. A lot will be said about what this group did or didn’t do in their four years in the postseason, but they gave a lot to this school. And we just want to thank them.”

It was hard not to think of this senior class—especially Wright and Freeman, the only ones to play all four years at Georgetown. Those two were the team’s best players and undisputed leaders. They were the McDonald’s All-American guards brought in to lead a new post-Final Four iteration of the Hoyas. And as their coach alluded to, they never brought the team back to those heights.

This post-game scene had become a familiar sight to me in three years of covering the team–a group of emotionally distraught Hoyas trying to sum up a season that ended disappointingly early, just like against Ohio in Providence last year and the season before versus St. John’s in the Big East Tournament. I’m sure it wasn’t much different after losing to Davidson the year before that.

With the benefit of a few days hindsight, however, it’s not totally fair to let those season-ending images define the seniors, indelible as they may be. While they underachieved in the postseason, Wright and Freeman deserve to be remembered with the all-time Hoya greats. Both finished their careers among the top-20 scorers in Georgetown history, with Freeman coming in at seventh all-time. Wright had the sixth most assists of any Hoya.

None of that matters without team success though. And despite a few unfortunate outcomes in March, Wright and Freeman led Georgetown to that, too. They posted an 88-43 record in four years, notching signature victories over top-ranked non-conference opponents like Duke, Memphis, and Butler, and they carried the Hoyas to the brink of a Big East Tournament championship last season.

Still, a program like Georgetown doesn’t play for regular season victories. The seniors know that as well as anyone. That’s why they wore such clear anguish on their faces after each postseason loss. Last Friday night, Wright sat with reddened-eyes and the normally stoic Freeman struggled to maintain his composure because they had failed at the one thing they wanted most.

“I feel like me, Chris, Julian, Ryan—we did what we can to try to help the program,” Freeman said. “We did the best we can. Plain and simple. That’s it.”

Freeman’s halting speech as he apparently tried to hold back tears revealed the subtext of his statements: their best wasn’t good enough, at least not when it counted. Freeman and Wright’s best was often the best in November or January, but that offered them no solace. They cared the most about March, and for whatever reason, they came up short.

Sadly, that wasn’t good enough to lead Georgetown to postseason glory. But in order to earn a place of respect in Hoya history, that should be more than enough.


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