A year ago, freshman status meant something entirely different for a Georgetown men’s basketball player than it does today. A year ago, then-senior guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman were the backbone of a supposed national championship contender that knew what type of team it was going to be and who was going to be on the court come tip-off. Unless your name was Nate Lubick or Markel Starks, you were more or less along for the ride.
That’s not the case anymore. This year’s preseason version of the Hoyas isn’t sure of its identity just yet, and unlike its predecessor, its starting five is far from predetermined. With the losses of Wright, Freeman and forward Julian Vaughn to graduation and sophomores Vee Sanford and Jerrelle Bennimon to transfer, starting spots are up for grabs this fall — even for the freshmen.
“You look at last year, and good, bad, right or wrong — we can debate that till the cows come home — the roles were pretty much set, even coming into the year, and the competition throughout the year didn’t change any of that,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “Whereas this year it’s open, and [the players] know that. That intensity level has shown up in workouts. … There is without a doubt a high level of competition at every spot, which is good.”
But would Thompson actually start a freshman against Savannah State on opening day?
“That’s not out of the question at all,” he said. “That’s not out of the realm of possibility at all.”
The most-hyped rookie of the bunch, forward Otto Porter, will likely be one of Thompson’s first options off the bench if he doesn’t find his way into the starting lineup by Nov. 12. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward was a late commit to Georgetown this past April and the fifth and final Hoya recruit to officially sign. He enters as the highest-ranked freshman of the class (No. 42 in the ESPNU 100), and his acquisition bumped Georgetown up to No. 14 in ESPN’s Class of 2011 recruiting rankings.
Porter’s physical build and array of on-court abilities might draw comparisons to junior forward Hollis Thompson; both are tall, lanky swingmen who can handle the ball as well as shoot, rebound and run the floor. Thus far, Thompson has enjoyed getting to know his new teammate.
“For one, he’s a good guy. I think that makes a big difference,” Thompson said. “He’s long. He can do a lot of different things.”
Porter played his high school basketball at tiny Scott County Central High in Sikeston, Mo., where he led his team to three consecutive state championships. According to senior center Henry Sims, the freshman has brought a humble, small-town attitude to the Hilltop.
“Otto’s a real low-key guy,” Sims said. “You won’t see him around campus too much. He keeps to himself.”
Porter is a different person on the court, though.
“He has a nose for the ball. Every rebound he always has to be involved in,” Sims said. “He’s a good player. He knocks down open shots. He’s a good weapon to have, but horrible to play against because he makes everything.”
After Porter, two other members of the freshman class also appear on the ESPNU 100. One of those is center Mikael Hopkins (No. 78), who has the opportunity to construct a prominent role for himself on this year’s team.
Hopkins hails from nearby Hyattsville, Md., and he graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School, Freeman’s alma mater. The 6-foot-8 big man filled out at the end of his high school career and weighs in at 222 pounds, providing a new shot-blocking presence and post-up option for the Hoyas.
Hopkins is joined by another newcomer at center in Tyler Adams, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound space-eater from Brandon, Miss., whose wide body is a welcomed and much-needed addition to an otherwise lanky Georgetown roster. Forward Greg Whittington — a native of Columbia, Md., who didn’t draw much attention in recruiting until the summer before his senior year of high school — is narrower at 6-foot-8 and 205 pounds. Whittington rounds out the new faces of the frontcourt with a more perimeter-based game.
Sophomore forward Nate Lubick has talked to the Hoyas’ freshman big men about the challenges they’ll face during their first year playing in the Big East.
“It’s a long season. The Big East, especially for big guys, is a really rude awakening,” Lubick said. “There’s nothing you can to do get ready for being in the frontcourt of the Big East. These are some big boys.”
Lubick also expressed his worries about the lack of experience Georgetown will have in the frontcourt when he or Sims is on the bench.
“Looking at that on paper, the Big East is the wrong league to have that kind of depth in,” he said. “A lot of new guys are going to have to step up and contribute really early. … I’m considered a veteran, and I’m a sophomore. I don’t really know anything either.”
While Sims, Lubick and the freshmen jostle for playing time in the frontcourt, the Hoyas’ third ESPNU 100 recruit, guard Jabril Trawick (No. 80), will try to navigate his way through the backcourt. Trawick, who is the shortest member of his class at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, has been noted for his edginess and fiery style of play, which will likely sit well with fans. However, his playing time may be somewhat determined by the development of sophomore guard Markel Starks.
But one thing is certain: The freshmen are going to play.
“They’re going to get squeezed, and they’re going to get squeezed early and often. That’s going to happen,” Thompson said. “The key might be how they respond and how quickly they grow up and how quickly they get accustomed to performing at this level.”
Starks, for one, knows all too well the struggles that can accompany a freshman’s adjustment to that level. He graded his freshman year performance a D- and noted that the college game is like nothing he’d been a part of before.
“College is a beast,” he said. “It’s a different animal.”
So while Starks tries to learn from his mistakes as a freshman and use them to improve his production as a sophomore, this year’s freshmen — while presented with the grand opportunity to fight for a starting job at Georgetown — will face the immense challenge of contributing immediately to a team trying to prove its doubters wrong and restore its standing among the elite of the Big East.
“We never have been averse to playing freshmen if they’re ready to play,” Thompson said.
Soon, then, we’ll know if they’re ready.