For Hoyas, lawyer in their court

Craig Esherick: Georgetown's coach, who once made John Thompson wait on a job offer until after he took the bar exams, now hopes he never has to practice law.

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

He did it for the free education.

Craig Esherick had no desire to coach basketball after his playing days at Georgetown were up. Instead, he wanted to practice law and planned to go to Georgetown's law school. Unlike his undergraduate education, which his basketball scholarship took care of, this time around financially, it would cost Esherick heavily.

That was, until legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson came calling with a deal. Esherick would serve as a graduate assistant on Thompson's staff, and in return, have his law school bill paid for.

The two had spent four years before as player and coach.

"I didn't want to pay for [law school]," Esherick said. "And coach was nice enough to give me a position."

In the middle of his third year of law school, Thompson offered Esherick another position. This time, it was to become a full-fledged assistant coach starting the next day. That meant quitting law school immediately.

"I had put too much effort [in] to quit law school," Esherick said. "I asked him if he could wait until July [of 1982], after I'd taken the bar exams."

Thompson agreed, and Esherick eventually snapped up his offer. He remained an assistant for 17 years, a lifetime to stay at one school, before taking over for Thompson, who stepped down in January 1999.

In his second full season, Esherick will lead his 10th-seeded Hoyas against No. 3 seed Maryland in an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game on Thursday in Anaheim, Calif.

The Big East produced two feel-good stories this season, with Boston College's worst-to-first finish in the conference taking center stage. The second comes in the re-emergence to national prominence of the Hoyas.

Esherick's team finished 19-15 last season, one in which the Hoyas were knocked out in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

With much of the same roster coming back this season, the Hoyas were predicted to have a decent year and, at best, make a cameo appearance in the NCAA tournament. But, Georgetown won its first 16 games and scored its 25th victory with Saturday's win over Hampton.

"Even I didn't think we would be this good," Esherick said.

Yet, the Hoyas are because Esherick has kept intact the style Georgetown has used to be successful for years. Esherick spent 23 years as a player, graduate assistant and assistant coach under Thompson, and felt no need to revamp what had worked for the Hoyas.

Instead, he followed Thompson's blueprint by winning with:

Defense and rebounding: First and foremost, defensive pressure is what Georgetown is known for. The Hoyas finished the regular season ranked sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (38.8) and first in the Big East. Georgetown also held a plus-nine rebounding advantage over its opponents, and averaged 44.7 a game.

The big man: Seven-foot Ruben Boumtje Boumtje follows in the steps of other Georgetown centers Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Othella Harrington as an outstanding shot-blocker. While his offensive game may not be as polished as his predecessors, Boumtje Boumtje blocked 2.4 shots a game in Big East play, fourth in the conference, and pulled down nearly seven rebounds a game.

"I'm even afraid of his name," joked Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson before his team's two-point, buzzer-beating loss to Georgetown in the first round.

A spectacular point guard: Baltimore native Kevin Braswell is the Hoyas' Most Valuable Player this season, although freshman forward Mike Sweetney, who led the team in scoring and rebounding, also had an outstanding year. But it is Braswell, who has gone from a scoring point guard to a distributor, who runs the show.

When he has to, Braswell is still looked upon to rescue the Hoyas, much like Allen Iverson and Victor Page had to before him, when they go into offensive slumps.

Braswell hit one of the game's most important shots against Hampton. The Pirates went on a 7-0 run in the opening minute of the second half after trailing by 22 points. Sensing the crowd getting behind the underdog Pirates and his team in desperate need of a field goal, Braswell pulled up and hit a jumper that seemed to deflate both Hampton and the crowd, while inspiring the Hoyas.

The 6-foot-2 Braswell, who attended Maine Central Institute after Lake Clifton High, had something extra riding on that game. He was spurred on by the thought of playing against Terps guard Juan Dixon in the next round, something the two have dreamed about for years.

"We've known each other ever since sixth grade," Braswell said. "And we've always wanted to play against each other."

Thompson was on hand to watch Braswell, whom he recruited, score a team-high 15 points in the Hoyas' win over Hampton. Thompson even rode the team bus to the game, but otherwise kept a low profile, so as to not overshadow Esherick.

Esherick, though, is emerging fine from under Thompson's shadow. He has the Hoyas in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.

"I really enjoy what I do," Esherick said. "I just hope I never end up having to practice law."

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