Close losses, missed opportunities, and gradual improvement were the dominant features of the Georgetown men’s basketball 2017-18 campaign. First-year head coach Patrick Ewing (COL ’85) inherited a talented, yet unproven, Hoyas team, and the results spoke for themselves. Georgetown finished 15-15 overall and a paltry 5-13 in Big East play. But after a second offseason of Ewing’s leadership and abundant newcomers, the Hoyas are optimistic and share a simple goal: win more games.
“We want to finish top half of our conference, if not top three,” said junior guard Jagan Mosely. “Go far into the Big East Tournament, if not win it. And then, make it to the NCAA [Tournament].”
As his team moves into their second season with him, Ewing feels more comfortable with his players, and the players have fully bought in to his faster, NBA-style system.
“[Ewing] definitely has a lot more confidence in us,” said sophomore guard Jamorko Pickett. “Not that he didn’t last year, but there’s definitely a lot more comfort in the team with this being his second year with us.”
The return of senior center Jessie Govan, who has climbed up the school’s scoring records and earned a spot on the preseason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list, has bolstered the Hoyas’ chances of a successful season. The 6-foot-10 Queens Village, New York native has downplayed his individual achievements, including a spot on the preseason Big East First Team, but is using them to fuel his determination to take Georgetown back to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s good motivation, just something to look forward to, something to look towards, but I’m focused on trying to make the tournament this year,” Govan said of his preseason accolades. “We haven’t been since I’ve been in college, and that’s a big thing for me … to be the leader of this team and go back to the NCAA tournament and get Georgetown back on the map.”
Confidence itself will not be sufficient for the Hoyas to achieve their first winning season since 2015. As fans will recall, the 2017-18 Hoyas struggled on a number of fronts, most of all taking care of the ball. According to KenPom.com, Georgetown turned the ball over on 20.8 percent of their possessions, ranking 308th in Division I. A number of key, close results hinged on the team’s ability, or inability, to effectively conquer defensive pressure. New drills incorporated over the offseason targeted this weakness and the ability to close out games, Mosely said.
“We score [in the drill] by getting stops,” Mosely said. “And obviously, a stop ends with a rebound. We lost a lot of games, by rebounds, turning the ball over, and you lose points.”
Ewing acknowledged that, despite the offseason work, taking care of the ball is a work in progress.
“It’s gonna be growing pains,” Ewing said. “We’re young, especially at the guard position. All you can do is harp on it, talk about it, show film on it, show them the mistakes.”
The Hoyas’ young, incoming backcourt is the source of much hoopla. Three-star recruit and dunking sensation freshman guard Mac McClung is making his college debut, and freshman guard James Akinjo, this year’s highest-rated recruit, will compete with Mosely for playing time at point guard. While Akinjo is projected to earn more playing time, McClung may also see the floor routinely, not for his prowess at windmill dunks, but for his attitude.
“I love Mac,” Ewing said. “I love his toughness, I love his intensity. That’s one of the reasons why I recruited him. It’s not just about the dunks or all of the highlight reels that fans love. [I] loved his ability, his toughness, and he’s not gonna back down from anyone.”
The Hoyas must also replace the production of former forward Marcus Derrickson, last season’s second-leading scorer and rebounder who declared for the 2018 NBA Draft and later signed a two-way deal with the Golden State Warriors organization. Derrickson’s departure leaves Georgetown without an established counterpart to Govan’s reliable scoring in the frontcourt, and the dismissal of former forward Antwan Walker means that the Hoyas are even thinner on the interior.
However, the Hoyas are not concerning themselves with finding a single replacement for Derrickson’s contributions. With wing depth provided by Pickett, senior guard Kaleb Johnson, and senior transfer guard Greg Malinowski, they aim to fill the gap at forward by committee.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming in, we’ve got [freshman forward] Josh [LeBlanc], we’ve got [senior forward] Trey Mourning, he’s coming, [freshman forward] Grayson [Carter],” Johnson said. “So we’ve got a lot of different people on the team that is gonna help fill that role.”
The team’s youth and inexperience as a unit will be tested early on this year with non-conference games scheduled against the University of Illinois, Southern Methodist University, and No. 16 Syracuse University. Though the schedule may not be chock-full of prominent matchups, it is an improvement over the 2018 slate, which saw the Hoyas play just one power conference opponent before Big East play started.
Georgetown will also play in the Jamaica Classic starting on Nov. 16, marking the Hoyas’ first non-conference tournament since 2016. For Ewing, a Jamaican-American, the trip to Jamaica will not only provide an early gauge of the team’s ability, but will also represent a homecoming of sorts.
“I thought it would be great for the team to see where I came from, to see my homeland,” Ewing said. “Plus we also have two players on the team [Mosely and sophomore guard Jahvon Blair] who are of Jamaican descent, so, we thought it’d be a good idea to go back.”
Like in previous years, the Big East schedule will make or break the Hoyas’ season. While the usual suspect, No. 9 Villanova, is projected to top the league once more, there have been significant shifts in the balance of power in the conference, the result of player and coach departures. Ewing, however, isn’t keeping an eye on any of that.
“All I can concentrate on is getting my guys better,” Ewing said. “Getting us, the recruits that we have in now, who are freshmen now, just getting them prepared and getting them focused and locked in to have a great year.”
While there are no set expectations for the Hoyas to return to national prominence in Ewing’s second season, the players have set high goals for themselves—namely, they want to win some hardware.
“I haven’t won a trophy since I’ve been here at Georgetown,” Mourning said. “So that would mean the world, just to have a piece of silverware, to get a national championship…I want to win something of value, not just a game.”