Not quite six weeks ago, I asked Georgetown men’s basketball coach John Thompson III if he was really enjoying coaching this year’s overachieving Hoyas.
As is his style in-season, JTIII deflected the query, allowing that while he was having fun guiding a young team picked to finish 10th in the Big East to the top 10 in the nation, “We’re right in the middle of things, so (I’m) not going to analyze the big picture. Pleased, not pleased, we’ll figure that out in a couple of weeks.”
When the curtain came down on third-seeded Georgetown’s surprisingly successful show yesterday to 11th-seeded N.C. State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32, Thompson could have bemoaned the Hoyas being ousted by a double-digit seed (Ohio, 2010; VCU, 2011) for a third straight March. Or the eighth-year coach could have sighed over the fact that Georgetown hasn’t even reached the Sweet 16 since its 2007 run to the Final Four.
Instead, Thompson showed how much he had truly loved coaching this team that went 24-9 with a bunch of kids other than senior guard Jason Clark, senior center Henry Sims and junior forward Hollis Thompson (no relation).
“I’ve never been more proud of any group I’ve ever been associated with,” JTIII said. “This is a team I’ll cherish, (that) I’ll never forget. This is a team I really wanted to win. … It’s a group that’s given it their all. We haven’t always had success, but it’s a group that all year for and cared about each other.”
That fighting for each other attitude was born in, of all places, China, where the Hoyas toured in August and wound up in a brawl with a Chinese team. Apologies were exchanged the next day, but bonds were formed. They continued to develop during early-season games against Alabama, Memphis (two) and powerhouse Kansas and into the daunting Big East schedule that included six battles with Sweet 16 squads Syracuse, Marquette (two), Louisville and Cincinnati (two) and four with NCAA also-rans Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Florida and West Virginia.
Sims, three years older than some of his teammates, said the Hoyas became a very tight-knit bunch as the season progressed. That chemistry should serve Georgetown well next season when Brandon Bolden, a 6-foot-10 recruit from Sumter, S.C., 6-9 sophomore Moses Ayegba, who red-shirted in 2011-12 after tearing his right ACL in August, or perhaps even the highly-coveted, 6-10 Nerlens Noel from Everett, Ma. (who’s choosing between the Hoyas, Syracuse and Kentucky) will likely replace Sims and highly-touted point guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera figures to compete with current freshman Jabil Trawick to fill Clark’s spot in the backcourt next to Markel Starks.
Certainly, it will hurt to lose the leadership of top scorer Clark and Sims, who finally became a presence this season. But the seniors managed just 14 points on four-of-14 shooting against N.C. State while their teammates scored 49 on 17-of-37 marksmanship.
If Hollis Thompson (23 points yesterday), who flirted with leaving for the NBA last spring, returns for his senior year, the youngsters continue to grow and the freshmen fit in well, the Hoyas should be even better in 2012-13. But the expectations – preseason top 25? – will be higher, too, making the results less likely to elicit the same kind of reaction from JTIII a year from now unless he and his team reach just the program’s second Final Four in 28 years.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.