It was an overcast Friday morning Jan. 25, and Georgetown Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) sauntered through the Thompson Athletic Center alongside freshman forward Jamorko Pickett. Pickett, in his first media appearance, sat down next to Ewing at the roundtable with a handful of reporters.
Ewing, on the heels of the Hoyas’ (13-8, 3-7 Big East) least respectable loss of the season — a one-point home defeat to DePaul (9-12, 2-7 Big East) — was asked how he is improving the Hoyas’ rebounding.
“Well, I’ve got a baseball bat,” Ewing stoically replied. Everyone, Pickett included, chuckled.
In close contests — one possession games with three minutes remaining — the Hoyas are 2-4 in conference play this season, with both of their victories against St. John’s (10-13, 0-11 Big East). As Ewing alluded to, late-game rebounding has been Georgetown’s downfall. Failure to secure boards in the final seconds has cost the team games against Syracuse, Butler and DePaul.
Now, with Big East play past the halfway point, the Hoyas have hovered above their low preseason expectations, but have not been able to get over the proverbial hump in terms of improving on last season’s 14-18 record.
Except for the DePaul loss, Georgetown has held steady in Big East play, garnering three wins against teams below them and seven losses against teams with better records. With eight games remaining — all against teams that, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, are projected to make the NCAA tournament — the Hoyas have little room for further disappointing upsets but have the potential to notch the season’s best victory.
Ewing also provided the media with their first major glimpse into his role as a recruiter. Even nine months after his hiring, many, including dismissive national media pundits, continue to doubt Ewing’s ability to recruit.
“That was your guys’ [expectation],” Ewing expressed. “Not mine.”
Back in the fall, Georgetown inked a pair of four-star frontcourt players in 6-foot-8 Grayson Carter and ESPN Top 100 Josh LeBlanc. Ewing also managed to flip explosive guard and internet sensation Mac McClung, culminating in McClung’s commitment to Georgetown.
Yet for Ewing, the recruiting season is far from over.
“After we lost [to DePaul] the other day, I went out on a recruiting trip. After Creighton, I [went] out west. It’s never ending. We need pieces,” Ewing said. “I’m out there trying to fill [2019’s class]. It’s never ending.”
With senior guard Jonathan Mulmore and graduate student guard Trey Dickerson departing at the end of the year, Ewing hinted at providing McClung the opportunity to be the Hoyas’ floor general from day one. Back when Georgetown’s staff visited McClung last year, he recalled Ewing showing him videos of Kemba Walker with the vision McClung could fill that role for Georgetown. Next season, McClung’s ball control will be a necessity for an up-tempo offense that has thus far failed to limit Georgetown’s turnovers to single digits every game this season.
Although virtually all top recruits have either committed or signed, Ewing remains dedicated to building 2018’s class. He hopes to add one more guard and another big man. After snagging both freshman guard Jahvon Blair and Pickett last summer, Ewing has had plenty of time to add to next year’s class.
Georgetown’s most desirable option is top-five point guard Jahvon Quinerly from Hackensack, N.J., who decommitted from Arizona amid an FBI scandal, in which Arizona Assistant Coach Book Richardson was arrested and charged with accepting bribes. Ewing has been in contact with Quinerly, who is rumored to be leaning toward top-ranked Villanova.
Junior guard and sharpshooter Greg Malinowski, who is sitting out this season after transferring, will also be an important addition next season.
Ewing’s recent four-day West Coast excursion focused on building his 2019 class. Ewing extended offers to ESPN top-50 frontcourt players Jaime Jaquez and Carl Lewis. Cassius Stanley, the No. 2 shooting guard in 2019, is also considering Georgetown. Ewing remains adamant in his desire to reclaim the D.C. metro area, but hopes to add to Georgetown’s national profile by plucking an elite player from the West Coast.
On the court, the Hoyas turn their attention next to the No. 6 Xavier Musketeers (20-3, 8-2 Big East). After their 24-point annihilation at Villanova, Xavier has rattled off five straight Big East wins to reclaim a tie for first place in conference play.
Aside from their two games against Villanova, Georgetown’s trip to the Cintas Center in Cincinnati will likely be the team’s biggest test this year. The Musketeers are undefeated in 14 contests in their home arena, where seemingly any Xavier player can catch on fire at any moment. Senior guards Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura lead Xavier’s potent offense — which ranks in the top 20 nationally in several areas — with 18.7 and 13 points per game, respectively.
The Musketeers’ versatility with nine viable options gives them a big advantage on the defensive end. Xavier’s ability to show and rotate while defending pick-and-rolls will be difficult for Georgetown to attack. Xavier’s Junior Kaiser Gates and freshman Naji Marshall are versatile wing players who can play multiple positions, while senior big men Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara can defend away from the rim.
Pickett’s and Blair’s recent improvements will be necessary to bring down a balanced team like Xavier. Pickett has averaged almost 15 points a game since the St. John’s double-overtime victory, a day he really felt he turned a corner.
“Right before the St. John’s game, everybody was telling me — coaches, fans, family — that you can’t just be a jump shooter, especially when your shot is not falling. So ever since then, I’ve just been working on my handle every day, trying to get rebounds and drive to the basket,” Pickett said last Friday.
Since the Hoyas’ win over the St. John’s (10-13, Big East 0-11), Georgetown has been able to string together several runs with junior center Jessie Govan on the bench. Junior forward Marcus Derrickson has averaged over 22 points per game, making shots from well beyond the arc to baby hooks on the block. Blair is coming off a career-high 21 points, 15 of which came from threes. The Hoyas continue to focus their offense on the freshman duo, running them off several screens and giving them space to make plays. Come Saturday, both will need to provide a spark in one of the toughest environments in college basketball.
Pickett did not seem too worried.