This column was supposed to be about which athlete owns the nickname “The Shark” (obviously, it’s former Ohio State basketball walk-on Mark Titus), but then Hollis Thompson declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday, moving HoyaTalk to DEFCON 1 and officially kicking off the traditional early spring hand-wringing over the state of Georgetown’s roster.
So here we are again. Thompson is the ninth player in the past five years to leave the Hoyas before exhausting his eligibility. Next season, for the second time in four years, Georgetown will field a roster without any seniors. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The issue of roster attrition under John Thompson III’s tenure as coach of the Hoyas comes up every offseason when a player jumps ship. And while it’s certainly possible that the departure of a few players (more so through transfer than the draft) can signal some kind of instability or unrest in the locker room, Georgetown’s recent losses are hardly a cause for concern. They’re a natural part of college basketball, and even a necessary one.
Still, Thompson’s departure seems like a particularly problematic move, both because he was expected to be one of the best players on next year’s squad and because he stands a good chance of becoming the first early entrant in the JTIII era to go undrafted. On the surface, it looks like the 2012-13 Hoyas were dealt a devastating blow by a player who is taking a big risk to get away from Georgetown.
However, while losing the best three-point shooter in Georgetown history (Thompson’s 43.9 percent mark from deep is tops for all Hoyas) certainly doesn’t help next year’s team, it’s hardly a reason to despair. This is a loss the Hoyas were prepared for. Thompson’s entry into the draft was basically preordained after he tested the draft process last year—his coach said he “fully anticipated” Thompson’s decision in a statement Tuesday.
Thompson’s departure may have shocked some Georgetown fans earlier this week, but JTIII has known he’d be working with an extra scholarship spot next season for a long time, one that hopefully will be filled by a top-flight recruit like Nerlens Noel or Devonta Pollard. Thanks to Thompson, there are actually two open scholarship slots now. If Noel and Pollard somehow both find their way to the Hilltop, no one’s going to waste much time imagining Hollis Thompson’s senior season.
I doubt Thompson will spend much time thinking about what could have been either. The junior forward may not hear his name called on June 28, but he’s still 6-foot-7 and can put the ball in the basket from 21 feet out more efficiently than almost anyone in the world. It may not be in the United States, but Hollis Thompson will be making plenty of money playing basketball somewhere in the world this fall. After three and a half years at Georgetown—he enrolled early—Thompson feels he’s ready to play professionally, and one more year on the court probably isn’t going to make much of a difference. (There’s a lot of talk online that Thompson may even be able to graduate this semester. Sports Information Director Mex Carey wasn’t able to confirm or deny that.)
This is the way college basketball works now. John Thompson III coaches in a very different era than the one his father worked in. For elite programs, players who stay on campus for four years are increasingly rare. John Calipari may be reviled in some circles, but he’s turned Kentucky into the Platonic ideal of the modern college basketball program—get the best players today, get the best players tomorrow, and don’t worry how long they’ll be around. Georgetown will never become a revolving door to the NBA like Kentucky for a variety of reasons, but it has to adapt to the same environment. Postseason struggles (and 2009) aside, JTIII has shown that he’s plenty capable of turning player departures into opportunities to reload.
Of course, there’s no guarantee a top recruit will replace Hollis Thompson next season. That would be a nice bonus, but the important thing is that the Hoyas didn’t get caught with their pants down. The loss of Thompson doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the roster—as a matter of fact, Georgetown has another lengthy swingman ready to step up in soon-to-be sophomore Greg Whittington. If Whittington can continue to develop the shooting stroke he began to show toward the end of the season, he might as well wear Thompson’s No. 1 jersey next season.
Hoya fans have about seven months to debate whether that will actually come to pass. Meanwhile, JTIII and his coaching staff will keep looking ahead, making sure that by the time Casual Hoya starts freaking out about Otto Porter entering the draft next April a contingency plan is already in place.