After posting a dismal 15-18 record in its 2015-16 campaign, the once-great Georgetown men’s basketball team entered its long offseason searching for answers. Who would the team turn to in a time of increased scrutiny and microscopic criticism? How would the Hoyas replace the production of their fourth all-time leading scorer, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who graduated last spring?
Enter Rodney Pryor.
It was a long road to the Hilltop for the 6-foot-5-inch graduate student guard. While heavily recruited in high school, he initially enrolled in Kirkwood Community College due to academic concerns. Following a disappointing freshman season, Pryor transferred to Cloud Community College, but was forced to sit out his two seasons at the school as a result of multiple injuries. Despite his string of bad luck, he was recruited by Robert Morris University, where he quickly found his groove, averaging 16.8 points on 46% shooting, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in two seasons as the leader of the Colonials. Last season, he was named a member of the First Team All-Northeast Conference squad.
Pryor has endured three transfers, a torn ACL, and a broken foot, but his sixth season in the collegiate ranks may pose the most monumental challenge he has faced to date: reinvigorating Georgetown men’s basketball on the national stage.
Following an offseason clouded by unpredictability, one of the only certainties entering the season is Pryor’s position as leader of the team. Although this is his first and only year with the team, his work ethic in practice and experience have quickly earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. Very little is known about what the Georgetown lineup might look like entering the year, but Pryor’s position as a starter is virtually guaranteed.
“I think coming in the coaches knew and the players knew what my role was going to be on the team early on,” said Pryor. “Being new, I had to really dial in on learning the plays and getting involved with the players, showing them my passion, showing them my leadership.”
“He’s kind of fitting that leadership mold well even though coming in, he’s just getting into his groove,” sophomore forward Marcus Derrickson said.
“This is Rodney’s sixth year playing college basketball, and he’s just as experienced as anybody,” said senior forward Reggie Cameron. “He’s a constant voice in practice. I think the guys respond well to him.”
In addition to his leadership skills, his offensive prowess is evident. He scored 23 points against No. 1 seed Duke in the 2015 NCAA tournament and posted over 30 points in multiple appearances in Georgetown’s Kenner League this summer. His production and efficiency are welcome additions to a team that struggled to find a consistent offensive threat last season aside from Smith-Rivera. Pryor’s true value, however, goes far beyond just scoring.
“The thing with Rodney is, I think he can play anything,” said Head Coach John Thompson III. “His biggest asset is just how hard he plays. He’s someone that can score as you indicated, but at the same time, he rebounds, he defends. Loose balls? He’s going to get on the floor.”
High energy and maximum intensity have come to define Pryor during his collegiate career. He is aggressive and willing to do any task on the court – even those which will not make it into the box score – which presents numerous challenges for opposing teams. This tenacity may be just what the doctor ordered for a Georgetown program in need of inspiration, as last year’s squad demonstrated periods of uninspired and lethargic play throughout the year. The Blue and Gray need more than just a go-to scorer; they need a spark-plug, someone who is prepared to lead the team into battle night in and night out.
“I want to be able to bring 120 percent every time I step onto the floor for this team,” said Pryor. “We don’t want to have any down energy night. Whether we’re up 20 or down 20, we want to play with the same energy and passion in every game.”
If the heavily-circulated rumors of the Hoyas employing a faster offensive scheme prove true, Pryor’s motor will be a catalyst of this change. He possesses a unique blend of skill, athleticism, and experience that makes him a clear threat in the open court. In Kenner League play, he demonstrated not only an ability to finish a variety of difficult shots around the rim, but also the situational awareness to pull-up and drain the mid-range jumper.
“I’ll tell you, people will always talk about playing fast, playing fast, that’s great. You have to be able to make decisions fast. Correct decisions fast,” said Thompson. With the skill set of Pryor at his disposal, Thompson may just have the piece he needs to establish a new brand of Georgetown basketball.
Pryor’s chemistry with his new teammates will be tested early and often this season, as Georgetown will take on No. 25 Maryland, No. 5 Oregon, and No. 19 Syracuse before the start of conference play. This may be Pryor’s first experience playing in a major NCAA conference, but his approach to the game remains unchanged.
“I think you have to just do what you know you have to do. The fundamentals, the regular principles to the game, staying dedicated, staying focused,” said Pryor. “(I’m) just honing in on what I do best, which is working out, staying in the gym, and really staying around my teammates.”
The stakes are as high for this year’s Hoyas as they have ever been in the JTIII era, and Pryor has been thrust to the forefront of a team trying to pivot from last year’s disappointment to a push for the NCAA Tournament. His play on the court will be instrumental in the Blue and Gray’s success this year, but his influence on the team may last much longer than just one season. He may just be the player that ushers Georgetown back onto the national radar.