“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Dante Harris quipped last March while smiling down at his Big East Championship ring. After a season in which the Hoyas were predicted to finish last, the diamond rings speak for themselves.
On Big East Media Day, an eerily similar first chapter was written for the 2021-2022 version of the Georgetown Hoyas Men’s Basketball. The conference’s coaches predicted the reigning champs would finish 10th in the 11-team league, once more leaving it to one of the youngest Big East teams to prove it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
On the Hilltop, excitement is building around a new core of players. However, challenges after another year of roster upheaval are undeniable. In losing Jamorko Pickett, Jahvon Blair, Qudus Wahab, and Chudier Bile, the Hoyas will be without 50 of their 73 points from the Big East Tournament Final. For the first time in Patrick Ewing’s tenure, the team will not have a senior on the roster or an established big man to play through. Meanwhile, the other Big East teams have only gotten better—it will be a tall task to return to the top.
Georgetown’s quest for a repeat conference title will be spearheaded by a returning backcourt of Harris and graduate student Donald Carey. Harris—a sophomore point guard and reigning Big East Tournament MVP—led the team in steals, was second in assists, and scored 8 points per game last year. As the season progressed, his confidence grew, highlighted by a dominant performance against Villanova in the Big East tournament.
Thrust into leadership, much of the team’s hope this year rests on the high expectations on Harris’s shoulders. In a league with top point guards, including St. John’s sophomore Posh Alexander, Villanova fifth-year senior Colin Gillespie, and Xavier fifth-year senior Paul Scruggs, the sophomore will have to match up and prove he’s worthy of All-Big East consideration.
Carey will also need to step into the team’s leadership. In his first year with the Hoyas after transferring from Sienna, Carey started 20 games and shot an outstanding 44 percent from three. He grew into his role throughout last season, culminating in a 17 point performance against Colorado in Georgetown’s first NCAA tournament game since 2014.
The lineup will also feature freshman forward Aminu Mohammed, Georgetown’s first 5-star recruit since 2014. Mohammed was named Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year and is expected to contribute big minutes immediately.
“He’s gonna make some noise in the Big East,” Harris predicted at Big East Media Day.
Mohammed is joined by four other freshmen—guard Tyler Beard, guard Jordan Riley, forward Jalin Billingsley, and center Ryan Mutombo. Team veterans are excited about what new players can offer.
“It’s great to have freshmen guys that want to get coached and want to get better,” Carey said.
Much of Georgetown’s success may actually fall to Georgetown’s third returner primed for a starting position—junior center Timothy Igohefe. With former center Qudus Wahab’s offseason transfer to the University of Maryland and Eastern Kentucky transfer forward Tre King ruled ineligible to play, “Big Tim” will face a leading role in the paint. Ewing’s ability to help centers make leaps in their game will be imperative with Igohefe, as the talented defender needs to develop a more well-rounded game to contribute offensively.
Igohefe will need help in the frontcourt. Without King, Mutumbo and 6’7” graduate transfer Kaiden Rice from The Citadel will be the only other bigs to compliment Igohefe. Mutombo has drawn impressive marks from preseason workouts for his explosive game around the basket and soft touch on his mid-range jumper. Rice is a key complement, as he will bring the three-point volume that Blair and Pickett once provided.
That being said, with the personnel the Hoyas have now, it may be time for Ewing to modernize the Hoyas’s system.
Last year, the team finished in the bottom half of the Big East in field goal attempts and in the bottom three in offensive efficiency. The plethora of athletic wings and guards at Ewing’s disposal make it imperative that he runs an offense that suits them. This should not—and will not—be a back-to-the-basket team. Harris, Carey, and Mohammed need an offense full of pace and space. Early signs suggest that Ewing is making these adjustments. On Media Day, Carey said that the team has “a lot of athleticism; it’s going to be a show,” and assured fans “we play fast up and down.”
This new playstyle will debut in a fairly soft non-conference schedule beginning with Dartmouth, American, and Sienna. The first big test will occur on Thanksgiving, as the Hoyas will travel to challenge highly touted San Diego State. Shortly after on Dec. 11 is the most anticipated game of the season as Georgetown welcomes Syracuse to D.C. Big East play then opens with Providence on Dec. 22. The headline matchup against Villanova will be played at home on Jan. 22.
With a Big East Tournament banner ready to be raised and fans back in Capital One, expectations for the Hoyas—and Harris and Ewing in particular—are demanding. However, overcoming the odds is nothing the coach/player duo hasn’t done before.
Harris was only the 418th ranked recruit in his class. Ewing’s coaching journey has long been ridiculed. But he was the one standing with tears in his eyes last March lifting the same trophy he held as a player in 1984. Heading into the season, it is worth remembering what Ewing said seven months ago in Madison Square Garden:
“I’m here where a lot of people didn’t think I had the ability to be. I’m proving everyone wrong.”
Starting Nov. 13, Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas will have the opportunity to prove everyone wrong once more.
Starting Lineup: Harris, Carey, Mohammed, Rice, Ighoefe
Team MVP: Aminu Mohammed
Biggest Win: Home vs. UConn (Feb. 27th)
Record: 14-17 (9th in the Big East)