As the buzzer sounded at the end of the first game of the 2017 Big East Tournament, sophomore forward Marcus Derrickson’s last chance layup attempt fell off the side of the rim. The Georgetown men’s basketball team’s season was over, ending with a 74-73 loss to historic Big East rival St. John’s. The loss concluded a 14-17 (5-13 Big East) season for the Hoyas, marking their second losing season in as many years.
The end of the season brought the end of graduate transfer Rodney Pryor’s short stint on the Hilltop, in which he led the Hoyas with 18 points per game in his final year of eligibility. Three days after Georgetown’s tournament loss, 2017 four-star recruit Tremont Waters asked to be released from his commitment to Georgetown. Ten days later junior guard L.J. Peak, who finished second for the Hoyas, averaging 16.3 points per game, announced that he was declaring for the NBA draft. Just two days following Peak’s announcement, the university fired head coach John Thompson III after 13 seasons with the program.
Two weeks removed from the season, the Hoyas had a nearly blank slate.
The search for a new coach began immediately, and ultimately Georgetown elected to keep the program within the Hoya family by hiring former Georgetown and NBA legend Patrick Ewing. Ewing had been working as an assistant coach for the Charlotte Hornets and was on the path to become an NBA head coach before the job opened up at his alma mater.
The hiring of the seven-foot Ewing was good news for Georgetown’s big men. Junior center Jessie Govan finished third in scoring for the Hoyas last year, behind Pryor and Peak with an average of 10.1 points per game, and is expected to be the offensive centerpiece for the 2017-18 campaign.
“Jessie is one of the keys for our success. If he does not step up and have a great year for us, we won’t be successful,” Ewing said of 6-foot-10 Govan. “I’ve put a lot on his shoulders. I’ve put a lot on his plate.”
Govan, along with now-junior Derrickson, will provide the backbone of the Georgetown front court. Derrickson finished fourth in scoring last season, averaging 8.3 points per game. Both Govan and Derrickson came to Georgetown as four-star, ESPN Top 100 recruits, yet have struggled to meet expectations. Govan played behind former center Bradley Hayes, who graduated after the 2017 season, while Derrickson battled injuries for much of his first two seasons. Now, healthy and under the tutelage of one of the game’s dominant big men, these two are expected to be key components of the Hoyas’ offense.
“I had to just improve my all around game,” Derrickson said of his focus during the offseason. “Coming into college, not winning for two years, you know, it really motivated me to push myself so I can win this year.”
Returners will also lead the backcourt. Sophomore Jagan Mosely and senior Jonathan Mulmore, who shared the starting point guard spot last season, are expected to run an offense that promises to play much faster than in years past.
“I have my own style that I wanna play. It’s an up-tempo style. It’s an NBA style,” Ewing said.
For a guard like Mulmore, this is a welcome change from Thompson’s preferred Princeton offense that featured a slower style of play focused on sharing the ball and constant cuts to the hoop. “This year, up-tempo … that’s my style of play,” Mulmore said, “I’m really excited about the season and looking forward to it.”
The backcourt will be bolstered by the addition of graduate transfer guard Trey Dickerson and freshman guard Jahvon Blair. Dickerson comes to Georgetown from South Dakota State where he averaged 10.4 points per game with a .404 shooting percentage. Dickerson and Blair are two pieces of Ewing’s first recruiting class, which brought a total of six new faces to the Hilltop. Ewing hopes Dickerson will be a vital cog in the Hoya backcourt.
“I’m looking for great players,” Ewing said of his recruiting process. “I want hardworking, great skills, can play multiple positions, big, athletic, can shoot.”
Blair is one of four in the freshman class. He is joined by center Chris Sodom and forwards Jamorko Pickett and Antwan Walker. Both Pickett and Walker are four-star wings and D.C. natives who are expected to make an impact on this Hoyas team right away. “We’ve told them a bunch of times we need them to not play like freshmen,” Mosely said. “We need them to come in mature, come in ready, because they’re big parts of the team.”
Rounding out Ewing’s first recruiting class is junior guard Greg Malinowski, a transfer from the College of William and Mary, who will be ineligible to play until the 2018-19 season due to the NCAA transfer rule.
With plenty of fresh faces, the departure of the team’s two leading scorers, the recent memory of two consecutive losing seasons, and the uncertainty of a new coach, the Hoyas were picked to finish ninth out of 10 in the Big East preseason poll.
“Preseason rankings don’t really mean anything,” Govan said of the projections. “It’s all about how you play in any year.”
The Big East will continue to be one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball, which provides a rough road for a Georgetown team looking to get back on its feet. While the conference schedule may be tough, Georgetown’s non-conference schedule is filled with mid-major conference opponents who finished the 2016-17 season with some of the lowest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings in Division I.
Despite the low expectations, as a historic powerhouse with a now Hall of Fame NBA player as head coach, this Georgetown team is back in the national spotlight.
“I think it’s on everybody,” junior forward Kaleb Johnson said of the media attention on the team. “I think everybody’s excited to see Coach, but they’re also excited about the basketball team and seeing how we’re gonna respond and how we’re gonna come out this year and play.”
The last time Ewing was a Hoya he traveled to three Final Fours and brought a national championship trophy home to Georgetown. All eyes are on him and the Hoyas to see if he can restore Georgetown’s place in college basketball’s pantheon.
“I had four great, four glorious years here,” Ewing said. “And for however long I’m here, I want to feel the same way until they kick me out.”