When the Georgetown Hoyas tip off against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to start their season on Nov. 6, they are beginning the next year of a rebuilding phase that Hoya fans hope will return their team to conference, and even national, relevance.
No one understands the Hoyas’ recent frustrations as well as the current senior class, especially center Jessie Govan and guard/forward Kaleb Johnson. In the three years they’ve played for the Hoyas, the team has failed to achieve a winning record, let alone earn a bid to a major postseason tournament. They’ve also undergone a change in coaching staff: Former coach John Thompson III, who recruited them to the Hilltop, was fired and replaced with current head coach Patrick Ewing after their sophomore year.
For many players, such circumstances would keep them from finishing their time at Georgetown—last year’s roster featured only two seniors, both of whom had transferred to Georgetown. The only member of the Hoyas’ original 2014 recruiting class is forward Trey Mourning, who was sidelined in the 2017-18 season with an injury and is now entering his fifth year on the team. Govan, Johnson, and Mourning have decided to complete their collegiate careers at Georgetown; along with senior Greg Malinowski, who transferred from the College of William & Mary in 2017, they hope to lead the Hoyas in their last season with the team.
When asked what he expects from the group of seniors, Ewing said, “Everything. They need to step up and lead. They need to lead on and off the court, they need to do all the things on the court in order to be successful, and also in the classroom and in the community.”
Of all of the team’s seniors, none is expected to play as big a role for Georgetown as center Jessie Govan, who started every game for the Hoyas last year and led the team in both scoring and rebounds, averaging 17.9 points and 10 rebounds per game. But his presence at Georgetown this season wasn’t guaranteed. Govan declared for the NBA draft last spring, but made the decision not to sign an agent, allowing him to return to the Hilltop.
Forward Marcus Derrickson, who was a key part of Georgetown’s frontcourt last season, aided Govan’s success, but Derrickson left Georgetown for the NBA in a two-way contract with the Golden State Warriors. Now Govan will be the center of opposing defenses’ attention. But he is aware of the challenge.
“I have to be ready for double teams and ready to have all the attention on me, and I’m ready for that,” Govan said. “I just have to embrace that role and make the right play, whether that’s scoring or getting another guy the ball.”
Govan had the added benefit of a low profile early in the season last year, as most opposing teams excluded him from their scouting reports. Since then, however, Govan has gained prominent national recognition. He was recently named to the First Team All-Big East, as well as to the watchlist for the Kareem Abdul Jabbar Award, given annually to the best NCAA men’s center. But for all of the preseason hype that he’s received as an individual, Govan is now focused on leading Georgetown to the NCAA Tournament, which the team hasn’t played in since before his time on the Hilltop.
If the Hoyas are to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need Govan to be a dynamic player on the court, but he’ll also have to use his experience to set an example for his teammates. Govan said that, in addition to conditioning and his offense, he has been working on his leadership in the offseason. Ewing knows that the team will ask a lot of the big man, but trusts and expects that he can handle it. “He’s in his fourth year now,” Ewing said. “He should be poised and ready to take on whatever comes.”
Johnson will also be called on to help fill the gap left by Derrickson. He started all 30 of the Hoyas’ games last year, averaging 7.9 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game. Johnson expects to continue the strides he made last year and understands that the team will rely on his play on the court as well as his veteran status. “I want to be more of a leader and have an impact on the court,” Johnson said. “Whether that means running the floor hard, getting rebounds, scoring, whatever coach needs.”
Without Derrickson, Ewing expects to stretch the court and use his wings and guards more. For Johnson, a wing, that means he will need to strike more of a balance in his post and perimeter play than he has in previous years. Still, he feels confident in his and the team’s ability to play in the perimeter. “Jagan [Mosely] is coming back, who’s just a steady hand and strong with the ball,” Johnson said. “And Mac [McClung] and James [Akinjo] are two dynamic guards, so I think we’re definitely confident on the wing.”
At 6-foot-6 and listed as a guard, Malinowski is expected to help the Hoyas from the perimeter. “Greg’s a great shooter,” said sophomore guard Jagan Mosely. “He can score [in the paint], but he’s a great shooter as well.”
This will be Malinowski’s first and only year playing with the Hoyas after his transfer, but his fifth year of college basketball. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I hope to help the other guys see the light. [I’ve] been in college for five years. I obviously come from a different college and was taught under a different coach, but I think those principles are still the same.”
Mourning, another fifth-year senior, is the only player on the team who was a part of the 2014-15 roster, the last Georgetown team that made the NCAA Tournament. Mourning admitted that it can be difficult being a leader from the sidelines, but he hopes to work on being an effective teacher for younger players.
While their playing time, matchups, and roles on the team will differ, each player knows that he has something to contribute. For Mourning and Malinowski, the start of their fifth year is cause for introspection. When asked what he would go back and tell himself freshman year, Mourning answered, “Just stay patient. You’ve got to have the mindset that it’s going to pay off.”
Reflecting on his basketball experience, Malinowski expressed a similar sentiment. “To live in the moment, to live in the present day and take things one step at a time,” Malinowski said. “It’s a process, you’ve got to trust your teammates, and that’s something I’ve grown to know.”
For Govan and Johnson, who each hope to continue their playing careers after their time at Georgetown, the start of their senior season offers them the chance to set themselves up for success later on, in basketball and the rest of their lives. “The ball will stop bouncing. No matter who you are, the ball is going to stop bouncing,” Johnson said. “And whenever it stops bouncing for me, I’m going to be able to lean back on my Georgetown degree.”
Image Credits: Alex Lewontin