The banners tell a story, of both exhilarating stories and a number of disappointing finishes, with the latter in greater frequency over the past few seasons. Those truly special seasons, though—a national championship in 1984 and Final Four appearances in 1985 and 2007—are featured prominently on the front wall.
“Georgetown basketball always has something to prove. You want to be on that wall,” said junior point guard Markel Starks. “That’s the goal. It’s nice to have those banners, but we want to be on that wall.”
For the 2012 Hoyas, such expectations seem lofty, if not downright outlandish. After all, the Hoyas lost their top three scorers with the departures of seniors Henry Sims and Jason Clark and junior Hollis Thompson. The three players emerged for the Hoyas last season, in a campaign that ended in heartbreak with a loss to North Carolina State in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32.
And so, for the vast majority of pundits, an NCAA Tournament appearance would mark the season a success. The Hoyas enter the second-straight season unranked in all national polls, failing to garner even one vote in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
Just like last season, they don’t seem to care all too much.
“I think the thing that helped us last year was that we didn’t worry about rankings or anything,” said sophomore guard Jabril Trawick. “We just worked hard and everything else came into position. You don’t worry about that; you just play hard and everything will speak for itself.”
The attitude worked just fine for the Hoyas at this time last year, as they were able to turn heads with a 13-1 start, flying into the national rankings shortly after a strong showing at the Maui Invitational.
Aside from those select games against Kansas and Memphis, though, the Hoyas’ out-of-conference schedule was underwhelming. Not so this season, as the team has to run the gauntlet through a brutal stretch of games against national contenders.
That grind starts tomorrow, with a pivotal matchup against Florida on the USS Bataan, an aircraft carrier in Jacksonville, Fla. The rest of 2012 is marked with a number of similarly challenging games against UCLA, Texas, and Tennessee, to name a few. Instead of easing his greenhorn unit in with a number of overmatched opponents, Head Coach John Thompson III felt a team with 10 freshmen and sophomores could use a trial by fire.
“I just thought it was important to test this group,” the ninth-year coach said. “I may be sitting here months from now thinking this was crazy. But who knows?”
With no seniors on the roster, the job of preparing such a young group falls on Starks and fellow junior Nate Lubick. Both players have had some spectacular moments for the Hoyas over their first two seasons, the most notable being Starks’ electrifying 20-point performance against Louisville last season.
Still, the majority of their first two seasons have been marked by inconsistencies. Lubick, despite starting last year, often saw limited minutes in crunch time. Starks, meanwhile, found himself in Thompson’s doghouse after an outburst at the end of a blowout loss to Seton Hall in February.
The move relegated Starks to the bench in favor of freshman phenom Otto Porter. This lineup shift had an added benefit, as it helped the Hoyas stumble upon their newest weapon—length. All of a sudden, Big Man U has transformed this season into something of a wingspan nightmare for other teams.
That evolution starts with Porter, who entered college under relative anonymity. After a stellar freshman season which saw him exploit his role in the Princeton offense with 9.7 points per game, Porter burst onto the national scene with preseason accolades and inclusion in the majority of early NBA draft projections. His preternatural ability to find the ball in the right places, evidenced by his team-leading 6.8 rebounds last season, is without a doubt a key to Georgetown’s success this season.
I think he got better at controlling the tempo of the game, which is something that you usually hear with point guards,” Lubick said of his teammate’s improvements. “That’s what makes Otto special.”
“22 is still 22,” Thompson added of his ballyhooed star. “He works as hard as anyone, he cares more than most. He’s a terrific teammate.”
Of course, with Porter alone in the fold, length is not much of an issue. But with his penchant for rebounding and versatility to play three positions, fellow sophomores like Greg Whittington are able to slide in and fulfill duties at other spots. That’s an extreme advantage for Thompson; the thought of a 6-foot-8 shooting guard in Whittington will make opposing offenses squirm.
The versatility is there for the Hoyas, even more than it was last year. Players can slide over and play multiple positions on the floor, though perhaps at the expense of the dominant big man Thompson is used to having. That concern doesn’t seem to be reflected in the locker room, starting with Thompson.
“Someone’s going to stick their neck out, and that’s what we’re going to go with,” he said. “I’m not looking at this in any way shape or form as a committee effort.”
In that sense, things seem to be working themselves out, as Thompson announced sophomore Mikael Hopkins will start at center for the Hoyas, likely joining Lubick, Starks, Porter, and Whittington.
For these Hoyas, the front end seems to be set. Beyond that, though, roles are a mystery, as Thompson needs to develop his freshmen at a rapid rate. Highly touted guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and sharpshooter Stephen Domingo lead the group, but they don’t have the luxury of a trip to China to mesh like Porter and his teammates had a year ago. Nonetheless, the depth they can potentially provide is likely the key to the Hoyas’ prospects this season.
“If the freshman class continues to grow and as long as they fit in, then we have a chance to be a contender,” Thompson said.
If they are to turn heads and play at an elite level, it will show early. The grind of the Big East schedule will be revealing, but these young Hoyas will have a chance to prove themselves to the nation from day one.
“Coach didn’t design the schedule for nothing,” Starks said. “The schedule is designed to show that we can play some ball. As much as people don’t want to give us credit, I think we can play.”
Women’s Preview: Take it from the top | By Brendan Crowley
This winter, Georgetown women’s basketball fans won’t be seeing many familiar faces on the court in McDonough Arena.
With the departure of seven seniors, one transfer student, and Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, it is up to eight returning players, three freshmen, and eager first-year Head Coach Keith Brown to continue the program’s impressive three-year run. Over that period, the program has been revitalized, reaching at least the second round of the NCAA tournament each season.
To be frank, it won’t be easy. The void left by the seniors is vast, as the group was chock-full of impressive accolades. Each one won at least of 20 games in her four years at Georgetown, making the class of 2012 the winningest class in program history.
Last season, the senior class accounted for 53 percent of the team’s scoring, anchored by Tia Magee’s 11.1 points per game. Apart from current senior Sugar Rodgers, who led the Hoyas last season in scoring with 18.5 points per game, a mere 9.9 points per game are returning to the Hoyas this year. This is an especially bothersome statistic considering most of this scoring happened at the end of already-decided games.
Brown, for one, doesn’t seem worried. Though he acknowledges the team’s lack of experience, he believes it has loads of potential, which he attributes to the players’ unrelenting desire to improve.
“It’s like we got one senior and nine freshman,” Brown explained, “because they didn’t get a chance to play because of those other kids. But where seven seniors kind of turned it off sometimes because they heard it…these kids’ antennas are up. They’re like sponges, they want to learn, they’re soaking up more information. I think that’s going to be the biggest impact on this team.”
Brown hopes his team’s ability to absorb information will translate into team success on the court, allowing for those inexperienced individuals to thrive.
Senior captain Sydney Wilson, a 6-foot-6 center, is one of the most promising candidates. She was part of a staunch interior presence for the Hoyas last year, leading the team in blocks with 24 on the season. However, with the departure of her partner in crime down low in Magee, Wilson will be expected to bolster her influence in both scoring and rebounding, where she averaged just 3.2 and 3.8 per game respectively.
“Sydney Wilson needs a great year,” Brown said. “If we can get post presence, we think we’re going to be really good.
Brown also has high hopes for many of his underclassmen.
“We think that [sophomore forward] Brittany Horne is going to shoot the ball well,” he said. “[Freshman guard] Logan Battle, if she figures it out, she’s gonna be really, really good. She’s athletic, she’s long, she makes plays, we just got to get her going in the right direction…I’m expecting Jasmine Jackson, who’s a sophomore at the point guard spot, I’m asking her to step up. We got 10 kids and I’ll play every one of them, so I’m looking for everybody to step up and get some scoring.”
Brown’s all-inclusive style of coaching is a reflection of his offensive and defensive philosophies, both of which stress constant movement and less structure.
“Instead of running so many plays, now we run an offense that’s more continuous,” Brown said. “So when it breaks down they can always know how to get back into the offense. I think right now we’re running a true offense…they got to do more reads.”
“Our motto is we’re going to defend, rebound, and share the ball,” he added. “And we’re going to apply as much pressure on you as possible, all the time…We play differently than anybody in the country.”
Star point guard Rodgers echoed Brown’s emphasis on an active style of play.
“Same principles as far as defense…Defend, rebound, share the ball. Pressure, pressure, pressure, trap, trap, trap,” she emphasized. “The usual. Offensively, we’ll push the ball in transition and try to get some easy buckets.”
As for where the team is at mentally, Rodgers referenced her team’s high level of enthusiasm.
“Everybody’s excited,” Rodgers said. “We ready to rock and roll.”
When the Hoyas’ season opens this Friday at home versus Sacred Heart at 7 p.m., Coach Brown hopes to see this same type of excitement from the student body.
“I think that if our student body can show us the love…that support would go a long way to continue the legacy that we started to build,” he said. “They play so hard…anything I can do to help them [the fans] come out, I’m willing to do.”