Georgetown stands tall again among elite

Surging at the right time, East's No. 2 seed aims for return to glory under ex-coach's son

Ncaa Tournament

March 15, 2007|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Everything about Georgetown's once-formidable basketball program suddenly looks big again.

Big like John Thompson Jr., the 6-foot-10 former Hoyas coach, patriarch and unofficial team adviser whose son took over the program in 2004.

Big like 7-0 Patrick Ewing, the program's most celebrated alumnus who frequently shows up at games because his son, who wears his dad's old No. 33, is on the team.

Big like 7-2 Roy Hibbert, the team's center and the latest in a succession of imposing Georgetown big men that includes Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.

And big as in "big time," which is what Georgetown is after winning the Big East Conference tournament and 15 of its past 16 games heading into the NCAA tournament. The Hoyas, who have three Marylanders in their starting lineup, are the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and play Belmont, the Atlantic Sun Conference champion, this afternoon in Winston-Salem, N.C.

For years, Georgetown was better known for past glories - the 1980s teams that memorably played in three NCAA finals in four years - than for the more modest achievements that followed.

Freshman DaJuan Summers, a starting forward from Baltimore's McDonogh School, says he learned as much about Georgetown watching old games on ESPN Classic as he did watching new ones on ESPN.

Like many recruits, Summers said he was enticed by the school's history and by coach John Thompson III, who took the team to the Sweet 16 last year in his second season. The Hoyas lost to eventual national champion Florida by four points.

"I always knew about Georgetown," Summers said. "And the summer of my junior year playing on the AAU circuit I saw Coach Thompson and he seemed like a pretty nice guy."

Now Summers gets schooled not only by Thompson III, but also by the coach's father. The elder Thompson, who compiled 596 wins in 27 years on the Hilltop, is a frequent visitor at practices and games and even occasionally asks his son questions during post-game news conferences.

"Sometimes he pulls us off to the side and gives us little tips," Summers said.

The 6-8 Summers, who looks and plays older than his 19 years, is a tough rebounder and defender who averages9.1 points.

"I'm extremely comfortable with him on the floor," his coach said of Summers.

Besides Summers, the other Marylanders are Hibbert, who is from Adelphi, and multitalented Jeff Green, from Hyattsville.

Georgetown has a number of Maryland connections on its coaching staff who aid recruiting in the state. Assistant coach Sydney Johnson is from Towson and another assistant, Robert Burke, was formerly on the basketball staff at UMBC. A third assistant, Kevin Broadus, is from Silver Spring and coached at Bowie State.

"There is an advantage to having the history and contacts in the area," said Bill Shapland, Georgetown's senior sports communications director. "They go for the strongest players and there are a lot of strong players in the area. The more successful the program, the easier it is to recruit."

The program's success has been noticed in Washington.

The Hoyas are averaging nearly 11,000 fans a game at Verizon Center and have more than doubled their season ticket sales the past two years, according to Kim Frank, the team's marketing director whose duties include everything from distributing VIP tickets to waving the cheerleaders onto the floor during timeouts.

"There's a buzz about Georgetown basketball," Frank said.

Georgetown achieved a first when it sold out the 20,000-seat Verizon Center in a Feb. 24 win over Pittsburgh - the first time the team had filled the arena to capacity for a Big East game.

"I think that's the loudest it's been all season," Summers said.

Georgetown beat Pitt again a few weeks later to win its first Big East tournament title since 1989. The elder Thompson and the elder Ewing attended the event to watch their sons. The younger Patrick Ewing, a 6-8 reserve forward, was integral to the Big East semifinal win over Notre Dame with 15 points.

The Hoyas began the season tentatively - losing to Old Dominion in November - but are now a trendy Final Four pick among media pundits because the best players, notably Green, seem to be peaking at the right time.

The Hoyas run a deliberate offense. Like the Princeton teams that Thompson III played on and coached, Georgetown makes back cuts, exercises patience and doesn't take many bad shots.

"We've made a concerted effort to make sure everyone understands what shot they should get and where they should get it, and I think our guys have done a better job as the year has progressed of understanding that," Thompson III said.

Among the spectators at a recent game was Pete Carril, the former Princeton coach who mentored Thompson III.

Said Carril of the Princeton offense he is credited with creating: "Anybody who investigates the offense will see that it is really one-third the Celtics under Bill Russell, one-third the old Knicks with their championships and one-third what I did."

Does Georgetown's offense remind Carril of his old Princeton teams?

"I can tell you one thing that's not reminiscent," Carril quipped in reply. "Georgetown rebounds."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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