Less talent, better team makes Georgetown top 10

Given how basketball has become such a star-driven sport,

Georgetown’s unexpected rise this season is a bit out of the

mainstream.

The Hoyas have gone from picked to finish 10th in the Big East

in the preseason by conference coaches to ranked No. 10 in the

country – and they’ve done it without an above-the-title name.

It’s not ”Greg Monroe and the Hoyas” or ”Jeff Green and the

Hoyas” or even ”Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Hoyas,” it’s an

amalgamation of guys wearing gray and blue who usually play good

enough defense to overcome the offense’s dry spells.

”They were more talented last year,” South Florida coach Stan

Heath said after a 30-point loss to Georgetown two weeks ago, but

are a ”much better team this year.”

It’s sometimes takes an outside voice like Heath’s to state the

obvious, but the Hoyas concur. With all due respect to departed

seniors Freeman and Wright – who last year led the Hoyas to a 21-11

record and another early flameout in the NCAA tournament – this

year’s team has a better chemistry.

”It wasn’t all roses last year,” senior center Henry Sims

said. ”We’ve grown from that.

”This year we’ve just bought into the philosophy of playing

hard, playing defense together,” he said. ”Being a team on the

court, being able to pick each other up on the court, being able to

talk to each other on the court. I think it’s just a different

mindset, a different environment, a different philosophy, that

we’ve brought this year as opposed to the last few years.”

Coach John Thompson III loves it, and it shows.

He’s taken a team heavily reliant on youth – the roster has only

two seniors and one junior – and has taught it to play solid team

defense and unselfish offense. The Hoyas (19-5, 9-4) have held five

Big East teams to 50 points or fewer headed into Saturday’s game at

Providence.

”Not that he wasn’t into it last year, but I think one thing

that’s different about this team – not to criticize last year’s

team – is that when people break off of the offense this year, it’s

to get somebody else a shot,” sophomore forward Nate Lubick said.

”Rather than last year, if somebody was breaking out of our

offensive sets, it was kind of to get their own shot.

”And as a coach, that’s all you can ask for, so you can see

that he’s just having more fun coaching.”

Added Sims: ”I’ve seen that in the past, him enjoying it, but I

definitely see a lot more this year, especially since we have a lot

of guys that buy into his philosophies of playing hard, preaching

defense first. We all feel the same way. Since I’ve been here, this

has been one of the times where he’s convinced that everybody is

really ready to step up and really ready to play.”

Thompson himself is reluctant to make such comparisons. His

tunnel vision, or perhaps an unwillingness to criticize former

players, kept him from giving a response to South Florida coach

Heath’s comment.

”I’m not sure,” Thompson said. ”I like our team this year.

I’m thinking about this year’s team, not last year’s team.”

Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and Sims are the leading scorers,

and all have shown the ability to get hot and swing the momentum

when needed, but it’s usually because someone has made a steal,

blocked a shot or grabbed a rebound at the other end.

Such teamwork manifests itself off the court. Teammates were on

hand Wednesday night, for example, to support sophomore guard

Markel Starks at his debate as a candidate for vice president of

the Georgetown University Student Association.

”We all hang together, joke and laugh together,” Sims said.

”We all trust each other, believe in each other. I think that

definitely has showed this year. It has helped us probably get a

couple of wins.”

Starks hopes to be a congressman one day, an interest that first

piqued during middle school when he had to study the 2004

presidential debates for a history class. He definitely has the

personality for it – and, by all accounts, had the room laughing

during the debate.

”I can definitely see that in Markel,” said Sims, an

unsuccessful GUSA vice-presidential candidate himself last year.

”He’s a people-orientated person. He’s a good speaker.”

As the team’s resident politician, it seemed only appropriate to

Starks to weigh in on the topic of last year’s talented team vs.

this year’s well-bonded team.

”I thought we had a very good team last year,” Starks said.

”I just think at times we couldn’t put all that talent

together.”

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP