On a team led by senior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and four talented sophomores, it would be easy to overlook this year’s freshman class. The sophomore class, which ESPN ranked as the seventh-best recruiting class in the country last year, will be one of the focal points of the team this year. However, this year’s freshmen may play a larger role than expected.
“The new freshmen have been a great pickup for us this year,” sophomore forward Paul White said. “They are strong; they know what they are doing. We expect a lot from them coming into this year and we are looking forward to seeing what they can provide for the team.”
This year’s class continues a trend in Head Coach John Thompson III’s recruiting habits — his affinity for local players from D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Two of the three freshmen in this year’s class, forward Marcus Derrickson and guard/forward Kaleb Johnson, are from the DMV area. However, the freshman with the most hype, center Jessie Govan, is not.
Govan, a rare back-to-the-basket big man, comes from Wings Academy in Bronx, N.Y. Ranked the No. 67 prospect in the Class of 2015 by ESPN, Govan could be the next player in Georgetown’s long lineage of star big men. Shandue McNeill, who coached Govan when he played for the New York Lightning Amateur Athletic Union team, highlighted Govan’s low-post ability as a key aspect of his game.
“I think Jessie was one of the best, not only in our program, but across the country, he was one of the best back-to-the-basket big men in the country,” McNeill said. “From an offensive standpoint, he was pretty much unguardable on the block.”
Govan averaged 8.25 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on Georgetown’s preseason trip to Italy, with a highlight in his performance in a loss to BC Atletas, a Lithuanian professional team, when he recorded 15 points and nine rebounds. He is expected to split minutes with senior center and co-captain Bradley Hayes this season. Billy Turnage, who coached Govan at Wings Academy, believes he will be ready to perform right away.
Turnage coached Wings Academy to a Public School Athletic League title in New York City last season. Govan dominated the tournament’s championship game with 17 points and 17 rebounds.
“He’s been in the spotlight his entire career so far,” Turnage said. “He’s not an unknown kid. He’s been highly recruited since the eighth grade.”
As Govan begins his freshman season at Georgetown, he is prepared to bring more than just an offensive presence on the low block.
“The thing that is beautiful about Jessie and what makes him a perfect fit for Georgetown is the system that [Georgetown] runs, he fits it perfectly,” Turnage said. “He can shoot the 15 [to] 18-footer, he passes the ball extremely well … and he’s intelligent. He has a high IQ on the court.”
According to Turnage and McNeill, Govan still needs to improve his rebounding skills. Although he averaged 13 rebounds per game in his senior season at Wings Academy, Turnage and McNeill both believe if he can improve his rebounding, it will take him to the next level.
Govan is not the only freshman who could be starting this year. Freshman forward Marcus Derrickson, whom ESPN ranked as the 89th-best prospect in the Class of 2015, was the team’s leading scorer during its trip to Italy. Derrickson scored a game-high 20 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range in a 74-64 win over Haukar Basket, a professional team from Iceland. He again led the Hoyas in scoring with 18 points in a 95-36 win over the Italy All-Stars, a team composed of players from Italy’s first, second and third divisions of professional basketball. He finished the trip by scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a 76-73 win over the Swiss team SAM Basket Massagno.
Derrickson’s performance in Italy impressed his teammates.
“I was actually surprised at how well he played. I didn’t think Marcus had all that in his arsenal. He’s also one of the better three-point shooters — probably the second-best three-point shooter on the team,” Hayes said.
According to Thompson, Derrickson himself is willing to go one step further than Hayes in terms of his own shooting ability.
“He gets rebounds and can score on the block,” Thompson said. “He also can really shoot. He will tell me he is our best shooter.”
Derrickson attended Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Va., for his first three years of high school. He led Paul VI to two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships in his three years before transferring to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his senior year. Brewster has produced several NBA players, including Will Barton, Mitch McGary and T.J. Warren. Current Georgetown sophomore forward Isaac Copeland also attended Brewster Academy for his senior year of high school.
Derrickson’s teammates are impressed by his work ethic off the court as well as his on-court performance.
“He’s always the first one in the gym and the last one out of the gym, first one in the weight room, last one out of the weight room,” Hayes said. “I see him in there whenever I’m in there all the time and as a freshman, you just see that and can tell he has a really good work ethic, and I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Although Govan and Derrickson are the only Georgetown freshmen ranked in ESPN’s top 100 recruits in the Class of 2015, freshman guard/forward Kaleb Johnson may surprise this year. Johnson attended the Carlisle School in Martinsville, Va., where he averaged 23.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game in his senior season.
“He’s going to be a sleeper,” sophomore guard Tre Campbell said.
Thompson is impressed by Johnson’s versatility and toughness.
“Kaleb brings a lot of things to the table, in a different way,” Thompson said. “He has a toughness, he makes hustle plays, he’s one of our better defenders that can guard multiple sizes, he gets to the basket.”
In addition to the three freshmen, the Hoyas added sophomore Akoy Agau — a 6-foot-8-inch forward who transferred from Louisville last year — to their roster. Agau, ranked No. 75 on ESPN’s top 100 recruits in 2013, was highly sought-after coming out of high school. However, he did not receive significant playing time during his two seasons at Louisville and ultimately made the decision to transfer to Georgetown. Because he only played in three games at Louisville last season, Agau retains eligibility as a sophomore, although this is his third season of college basketball.
Agau, a native of Sudan, was scheduled to miss the first half of the regular season due to transfer eligibility rules. However, Agau recently tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. His injury is a big blow to the Hoyas, who will now rely heavily on Govan and Hayes to play minutes under the basket.
“It really hurt me because I’ve known Akoy for a couple of years now. When he came and he was thinking about transferring here, I was like, ‘You really need to come here, we need you this year,’ and he was really going to be a big part of our team,” Copeland said.
Thompson said the team will miss Agau’s strong presence.
“We’re going to miss him, because he’s a big physical presence. But with that being said, I think we have depth there.,” Thompson said. “I’m not going to say it’s not a loss; it’s a loss.”
Despite Agau’s injury, Thompson will still have three newcomers to integrate into his rotation. He believes the team’s experience in Italy will help the freshmen early in their careers.
“I think it was very beneficial,” Thompson said. “When I say ‘time will tell,’ you get a whole new group each year. You get those early practices, you get the freshmen who get a chance to play in four games. There’s a completely different feel; I’m not out there nervous, coaching the way I do during the season.”