The Hilltop is famous for producing great centers. Over the past few years, however, this hasn’t been the case. What has happened to Big Man U?
Since the departure of Greg Monroe in 2010, the Hoyas have been without a strong center. The squad has become much more of a lanky forward’s team. Otto Porter is now the archetype for the Georgetown centerpiece, with Greg Whittington, Stephen Domingo, Reggie Cameron, and recruits Isaac Copeland and Paul White also fitting into this mold. While Otto certainly brought excitement and success to the program, the lack of a big man has been a key weakness in the Hoyas’ system. The absence of an inside threat has made it easier for defenses to focus on the guard play, while the absence of a rim protector on the defensive end makes inside scoring much more effective against the Hoyas.
In the vaunted 2014 recruiting class, the Hoyas have secured four highly-ranked players: White and Copeland, as well as guard LJ Peak and Markel Starks’s replacement, Tre Campbell. However, the glaring hole in this class is a center. The Hoyas missed out on big men Chinanu Onuaku, who committed to Louisville, and Elbert Robinson, who committed to LSU amid rumors of recruiting corruption. These players were two of the most prominent inside forces in the class of 2014 and had Georgetown among their final choices for schools before deciding to take their talents elsewhere. Thus, the Hoyas are without a center of the future.
Enter Josh Smith. The transfer from UCLA entered college as a prized five star recruit. The Hoyas’ last five star player? None other than Monroe. But Smith’s story is not so simple. While at UCLA, Smith showed flashes of his vast potential but struggled with his weight and conditioning. During his time under Ben Howland, Smith’s productivity and minutes waned. Against Georgetown last year, Smith only played 12 minutes and scored four points.
Since coming to the Hilltop midway through last year, Smith has supposedly cut weight in preparation for the season but remains a question mark. “He has to make a decision if he wants to be good or not. He has all the tools. He always has. When and if he commits, he’ll see the positive results. It’s a process,” Head Coach John Thompson III said of Smith. The big man’s eligibility for the first semester remains in question as there is currently a waiver pending for Smith to play in the first semester.
“We don’t know when or how long we’ll have him, But we think we should know pretty soon,” Thompson said. But when Smith returns, he could be the final necessary piece for the Hoyas to have a great run.
Smith, at his best, is an unstoppable offensive force. In the post, Smith’s size is lethal to opposing defenses. If Kenner League play is any indicator of Smith’s prowess, after getting the ball, there is always a good chance that he will either get fouled or score.
This is a change of pace from the current situation for the Hoyas. Mikael Hopkins has struggled on the offensive end, in part to his height—Hopkins stands at only 6-9. Moses Ayegba has shown promise on the boards, but is nonexistent on the offensive end. The absence of a post presence has put extra pressure on the backcourt. Though Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera have excelled, without Porter attracting the brunt of defensive attention, opposing defenses will be able to closely watch the perimeter. Last season, the ability to cut to the basket was seriously lacking. Only perimeter shooting and Porter’s wizardry kept the Hoyas in games. However, if Smith enters the mix, he could spread the floor and help the guards slash to the hoop.
Smith’s tenure on the Hilltop could be yet another disappointment, but it could also be the return to the glory days of Big Man U. With an experienced team of smaller players on the roster this year, Smith could complete the puzzle and make the Hoyas a top force on the national scene. If Smith doesn’t leave for the NBA, the talent injection coming next year could make the 2014-2015 Hoyas one of the most formidable teams in recent memory.
Who are the players you associate with Georgetown? Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe. Could the next man on the list be Josh Smith?