Before the 2014-15 season began, then-senior guard Jabril Trawick made it clear he was there to provide senior leadership and strength to the Hoyas.
“With the way my personality is and the kind of player that I am, I’m going to be a naturally vocal person on the court and off the court and just try to teach the younger guys,” Trawick said. “I’m going to be a leader.”
This year’s Hoyas have several advantages. They are led by Preseason All-Big East senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and experienced Head Coach John Thompson III. Georgetown’s roster is blessed with good overall athleticism and height, as sophomore point guard Tre Campbell is the shortest player on the roster at 6-foot-2.
The roster also includes two touted frontcourt recruits — freshman center Jessie Govan and freshman forward Marcus Derrickson — who are expected to contribute immediately. One area in which the Hoyas are lacking, however, is upperclassman leadership, the type that Trawick provided.
After the graduation of Trawick and other important contributors like forward Mikael Hopkins and center Joshua Smith, Thompson expects a new crop of leaders to emerge for the Hoyas this season.
“I’ve told our sophomores, we need them to perform like seniors, as it relates to production, but more importantly in understanding and caring,” Thompson said. “I’m putting a lot on their shoulders, but I think they can handle it.”
One player whom Thompson tasked with big responsibilities from day one is versatile sophomore guard L.J. Peak, who became the first Hoya in five years to regularly feature in Georgetown’s starting lineup as a freshman. The Gaffney, S.C. product started 32 of 33 games for Georgetown, leading the team in scoring five times and finishing third on the team in minutes played per game.
After establishing himself as a key contributor as a freshman, Peak feels ready to accept Thompson’s challenge of becoming a crucial, albeit soft-spoken, team leader.
“I’m not much of a talker, so I just lead by example. I just play hard all the time and [the freshmen] see that,” Peak said.
Sophomore forward Isaac Copeland was similarly thrown into the fire last year, starting 11 games and finishing fourth on the team in rebounds per game and fifth in points per game. Armed now with a year’s worth of experience in the physical Big East, Copeland feels confident that he has grown into a bigger role on the team.
“Last year was more of a learning experience, like just growing and learning from the older guys,” Copeland said. “This year, I have one year underneath my belt. Basically, I’ve been more of a teacher and more vocal this year. So [I am] definitely seeing my role change this year compared to last year.”
Despite his potential, Copeland realizes that as a freshman, the pressure of playing crucial minutes led him to underperform at times. With a year of experience and a bigger role as a leader, Copeland said he better understands the ups and downs of the college game.
“Last year I think I got rattled a little too easily — especially last season. But now, I realize that certain things happen throughout the course of the game, and it’s a long game. You just need to keep your head up and keep playing,” Copeland said.
The departure of last year’s senior class leaves the Hoyas without 57 percent of their scoring and 50 percent of their rebounding from last season. Sophomore forward Paul White, who averaged 5.0 points per game as he assumed a bigger role as the season progressed, is ready and willing to replace that production.
“I’m just going to see whatever the coaching staff needs from me, whether it’s passing, scoring, defending, rebounding. Whatever they need from me, I am here to offer all of my abilities and just win,” White said.
Thompson sees his sophomore class as the crucial piece in this year’s squad that could determine how far the Hoyas go come March.
“That class is the core of what we have. We have a very good freshman class. This year’s freshman class is going to play just like last year’s freshman class played,” Thompson said. “And you have some seniors up there in D’Vauntes and Bradley [Hayes], who have been very good. But the sophomore class is going to have to make huge strides and maintain the consistency.”
Copeland echoed Thompson’s sentiment, noting that the sophomores acknowledge their enhanced roles and relish the chance to become leaders on a young team. Copeland and the rest of the sophomore class will have to prove that they can lead in both word and deed this year if the Hoyas stand a chance at progressing into the second week of March Madness.
“We all played in some big games last year. We’re going to be called upon,” Copeland said. “We have young guys that need to learn from us. The seniors, they told us some things last year. We have to show the freshmen, since they’re young guys, how to do it, too.”