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

Georgetown Creating Buzz for ’05-’06 Season

There’s a buzz about Hoya basketball this season. It’s coming from students, alumni, the national media and even the athletic department itself.

Coupled with higher expectations, a more difficult out-of-conference schedule, the new Big East conference and some impressive freshman prospects, an aggressive new marketing campaign by the athletic department has already generated 70 percent more season ticket sales than last year.

Chalk it all up to being year two under Coach Thompson III’s motion offense. The four-year coach at Princeton now has a better sense of how he wants to run his Hilltop squad, and he spent the offseason working specifically on player development.

“We didn’t have enough time to get to that last year,” he says, adding that the team also demonstrates a more thorough understanding of his system. “Everyone knows the language I’m speaking.”

His players feel the same way. “We’re not as lost,” says senior guard Ashanti Cook. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.”

With what they worked on over the summer, the Hoyas’ increased comfort level will translate into a refined style. They won’t look exactly the same as they did during their second-round Big East tournament loss to Connecticut or their defeat by South Carolina in the NIT.

The 2005-06 team already has a quicker, leaner look. Thompson admits, “We may be able to play at a faster pace this year.”

What Thompson and his team must do this season, when the son of Hoya basketball legend Patrick Ewing will only be a benchwarmer after transferring from Indiana, is build upon last year’s somewhat unexpected success.

2004-05 was a year during which, despite the arrival of a new coach, new assistants and an entirely new offensive philosophy, the Hoyas managed a 19-13 record, and reached the third round of the National Invitation Tournament.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us because we had a good season last year,” sophomore forward Jeff Green says. Even so, “making it to the NCAAs – that’s my personal goal.”

Senior forward Brandon Bowman and Green, selected as honorable mentions to the all-Big East preseason team, will propel an offense that outshot opponents .452 to .415 in 2004-05. Back for his fourth and final year on the Hilltop, Bowman will provide some essential stability to the Hoyas’ attack. He led the team in scoring with just over 15 points per game last season.

Green, who along with Cook was elected captain by his teammates, looks to bring on-court passion and leadership. Additionally, Green’s versatility may prove to be one of the team’s greatest assets, since opposing coaches will put a greater emphasis on trying to shut down the 6-foot-9 power forward.

Green leads the sophomore class of Roy Hibbert, Jon Wallace and Tyler Crawford, whose maturity will play a key role in the team’s performance this year.

The biggest piece of the puzzle by far will be Hibbert, who started 17 contests at center last year.

“He may have worked harder and been more attentive than anyone” in the offseason, Thompson says. His progress may be so noticeable because of his more muscular 7-foot-2, 283-pound frame.

“In many ways it was unfair to throw him out there [last year],” Thompson says. “He is extremely driven. A large part of our growth is still with him.”

Between Georgetown’s Jan. 18 overtime loss at Syracuse and its second game in the NIT, no player recorded double-digit rebounds. For a team looking for the most improvement on defense, particularly in terms of boards, that responsibility will rest with Hibbert.

“That’s my job right there,” he says. “So I’m going to make sure I carry that weight rebounding.”

Hibbert’s teammates also express confidence in his enhanced game.

“He’s going to be a big surprise to a lot of people,” Cook says.

With an improved center, plus five returning starters, Georgetown poses a formidable threat – at least on offense.

But while the veterans may be comfortable with Thompson’s system, the freshman class still has a bit of a learning curve to overcome.

Thompson says the freshmen have done an excellent job pushing their older teammates during practice. But first-years Marc Egerson, Jesse Sapp, Tay Spann and Josh Thornton “are still bumbling around like drunken sailors,” he jests.

Though the newcomers will not receive significant playing time right away, Egerson looks like the most advanced of the new class. That being said, it will probably take several weeks at the start of the season to figure out the nooks and crannies of the roster.

Even by the time of the Hoyas’ first nationally televised matchup, Dec. 8 at No. 17 Illinois, Thompson says he would be lucky to know exactly how each member of his team will contribute.

Down the stretch last year, the team was overcome with fatigue and lost its last five regular-season matches, including contests against conference bottom-feeders St. John’s and Providence. But with four freshmen who might quickly contribute playing time, the 2005-06 Hoyas have a much deeper bench. It would be a surprise to see them deteriorate again come February in the midst of conference play.

“No one is going to put more pressure on us than me,” Thompson says. “If this group gels . we can be better than we were last year. But in our league, who knows?”

The out-of-conference schedule will also be difficult for a program that already plays in a talent-packed 16-team superconference like the Big East.

“Some days I look at [the non-conference schedule] and say, `Ooh, boy’ – and some other things,” Thompson says. To best the top-ranked teams in the nation, like the Dukes and the Illini, “the stars may have to be aligned,” he says.

The Hoyas, ranked sixth in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, tallied a handful of votes in the preseason USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll. Georgetown will still surprise a lot of people if it makes a splash this year but, unlike last year, the team is at least on the radar at the start of the season.

“We have everyone coming back off a very good team that made some noise,” Bowman says.

Thompson cautions, however, that he and his players won’t be making any assumptions about the 2005-06 campaign, set to begin Friday night in Annapolis, Md., against the Navy Midshipmen.

“Just because you’re a year older doesn’t mean you’re better,” he says.

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