Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Commentary | Sixers Starters Feature Thompson, Sims Duo

It’s inevitable that each year, a few NBA teams — those lacking an offensive or defensive focal point, those with absolutely no chance of making the playoffs — purposely underperform in order to gain a better chance at a top pick in the next year’s draft. Even when tanking, however, franchises have to straddle the line between calculated failure and unwatchable incompetence; if a team plays too badly, it risks alienating its fan base and gaining a toxic reputation among free agents.

This year’s Philadelphia 76ers have not toed this line as much as they’ve tripped over it, crashed into the ground and broken every bone in their body. They’ve lost their first nine games of the season, some in historic fashion — in their Nov. 13 game against the Dallas Mavericks, a 123-70 loss, the Sixers trailed at the half by an almost comical 44 points, the second-largest halftime deficit in league history.

Not one sliver of schadenfreude could be felt from watching a Sixers loss, an ugly display of helplessness in which the Sixers committed the second-most turnovers in the NBA while scoring the second-least amount of points this season.

I’ve never been a fan of the team — in fact, as a New York Knicks fan growing up 40 minutes away from Philadelphia, I have actively rooted against them — and this certainly wouldn’t be the year to start, especially with the local Washington Wizards looking like they could make a deep playoff run. But I’ve nonetheless tuned in to every game they’ve played — not out of some perverse curiosity or masochism but because unexpectedly, the 76ers start two former Hoyas.

Both center Henry Sims and shooting guard Hollis Thompson declared for the NBA draft in 2012, after leading what was thought to be an unremarkable Georgetown squad to an impressive year-end No. 15 ranking.

Before the season, Sims was seen as a solid but unspectacular senior center, a footnote in the school’s vaunted history of big men. Thompson, who had nearly left Georgetown the previous spring for the NBA, returned as the team’s main scoring option in his junior year, along with co-captain guard Jason Clark, but did not inspire the same confidence the now-graduated guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright had the year before. The two greatly exceeded expectations, however, with Sims proving he could play a complete offensive game and Thompson cementing his reputation as a clutch sharpshooter.

That was my freshman year, and to tell you the truth, I don’t have the sort of relationship to that team that usually pre-empts this sort of nostalgia. I had season tickets — I was, after all, a freshman — but I only went to Verizon Center a handful of times. That year’s games invoke no particularly strong memories — nothing like the awed admiration I felt after former forward Otto Porter helped Georgetown quiet Syracuse’s Carrier Dome a year later. And worst of all, half of my heart still belonged to conference rival Providence, a team I had supported since childhood.

When I noticed in late October that both Sims and Thompson were not only still in the NBA but in a team’s starting lineup, however, I felt a pride in Georgetown basketball that I hadn’t felt since my first year here.

Like the Hoyas team they once led, Sims and Thompson weren’t given much hope; neither ended up being chosen in the draft and each bounced around teams and practice squads with little press or fanfare following them. By this point, I had expected them to join former teammate Clark in Europe, still playing basketball but never again at the top level. But like that 2011-2012 Georgetown team, who before the season were predicted to finish just 10th in the Big East (instead, they ended up spending some time ranked in the top-10 nationally), Sims and Thompson defied expectations, finding themselves to be valuable contributors on an NBA roster.

Now, this may seem like a strange definition of success, starting for what is by far the worst team in the league and led by a front office more interested in next year’s No. 1 pick than any sort of achievement this year. Furthermore, I don’t expect Sims or Thompson to make a meaningful contribution to any team — apart from the Sixers — in the future; they simply aren’t good enough to be anything more than bench players on the average NBA roster.
But for whatever reason, I continue to watch them play.

Maybe it’s a form of Hoya solidarity. Maybe it’s my way of honoring that underdog 2011-2012 team. Maybe it’s a strange attempt to return to my freshman year, not because it was particularly great — it wasn’t.

One thing is for sure: although Sims and Thompson are far from NBA stars, they are making the most of their moment in the spotlight, and I’ll be sure to watch it.

Hunter Main is a senior in the College.

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