Back For More
Greg Monroe passed on the NBA in hopes of redeeming Georgetown.
Greg Monroe doesn’t know what triggered Georgetown’s spiraling downfall last season – he can’t put his finger on it.
When asked, he says there was no specific low point during a seven week stretch that saw the Hoyas drop 10 of 14 games to close out the regular season. Some might say it was the season finale, a sloppy 48-40 win over a DePaul team that went winless in the conference last year. Only by the grace of the Blue Demons shooting a paltry 29 percent from the floor was Georgetown able to overcome its 17 turnovers and escape with a victory in hand.
Even in the midst of his team being mired in mediocrity, Monroe was able to distinguish himself in a Big East Conference that featured eight players who were drafted in June. In taking home Conference Rookie of the Year honors and earning the praise of pro scouts for his combination of size and skill, it seemed likely that the standout freshman would bolt for the NBA given the value of his stock and his underachieving team.
It turns out, Monroe has this thing about wanting to leave his mark.
“A lot of people had their opinions about whether or not I should go, but personally I didn’t feel like another year would hurt me,” he says of his decision to return for his sophomore year. “It allows me to get better and to learn more things that I’ll need to play at the next level. It wasn’t a tough decision, I thought about it carefully, but I decided I didn’t want this to be a distraction for me and my teammates. I didn’t want questions about whether or not I was coming back all over the place, so I decided to make a decision as soon as possible so I could focus on getting better.”
His teammates have followed suit and the Hoyas look primed to be a trendy sleeper pick in the Big East this year with the return of five of their top seven scorers as well as former heralded recruit Henry Sims. It will be difficult to replace leading scorer DaJuan Summers, but with junior guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman anchoring the backcourt and Monroe facilitating much of the offense from the high post again, Georgetown has the pieces in place to register a winning conference record.
Returning a core group of players who have experienced the grind of the regular season conference schedule – and most importantly learned how difficult it is to win close games – will be the key to having a better showing in 2010 says head coach John Thompson III.
“I hope so anyway,” he says with a laugh. “That was unique for our program; traditionally we won all of the close games, that wasn’t the case last year. I think this group does have that feel and it does have that understanding.”
“We have an experienced group that understands how hard winning is in this conference, and we didn’t understand that last year. We have a better feel for how tough the grind is.”
Perhaps more than anyone else Monroe understands that notion and it will be paramount for him to keep it fresh in his mind with the added pressures of being one of the faces of the Big East this season. The sophomore will easily be one of the two or three best players in the league heading into the season and will be one of the favorites to challenge for player of the year honors.
But Monroe didn’t return for awards – citing winning as his only reward based goal for the season – he came back to better himself before making that all important leap. The primary objective in his off-season training was to add more strength to his 6-11, 250-pound frame which at times was pushed around on the block last season. Still, few basketball minds will confuse the gifted big man as a pure post player, but rather a prototypical power forward for the pro game. According to Thompson, this has been both a gift and a curse for his star player, particularly when it comes time to make improvements to his game.
“He has the ability to do a lot of things on the basketball court,” Thompson says. “With some players you can tell them to work on shooting or dribbling, but with Greg he can do everything, therefore he has to work at everything. He is effective in the post, he is effective on the perimeter, he can pass, he can score; that is a blessing and a responsibility for him.”
A responsibility that he has already shown more than enough maturity to carry.
Still, the brilliance of Monroe’s game is often lost in translation by the casual fans who pour over internet box scores each morning. His freshman year numbers of 13 points, 6.5 rebounds and nearly two steals were solid, but hardly scream All-American. What does stand out – for those who have witnessed the budding star – is the unusual blend of fluidity and touch that this near 7-footer possesses.
Monroe can stretch defenses with his range for a frontcourt player, displays a high basketball IQ, good instincts on both ends of the floor and there is still the most intriguing characteristic of all: his age. The Louisiana native won’t turn 20 until a couple of weeks before the 2010 draft, meaning it could easily be five years before we see the best that he has to offer, but even while still developing he can and has been a game changer for the Hoyas. Just don’t expect to see him getting 25 points on 20 shots this year.
“I think you should expect to see a balanced team again this season,” Monroe says. “The other guys on the team have been working hard; I think they’re ready to step up. You should expect a lot more from Austin and Chris as juniors.”
That statement alone is one of the best selling points for Monroe right now as far as his pro aspirations are concerned; his ability to operate and impact the game within a system. With seven players back who saw double figure averages in minutes played last season, the Hoyas aren’t going to need for Monroe to be the man every night. Despite being the most hyped recruit to sign with Georgetown in over a decade, he only eclipsed the 20-point mark twice the entire season – partly due to his adjustment to the college game and partly to the team system.
Coach Thompson says it won’t be Monroe’s responsibility to carry the team on his back night in and night out during his sophomore year. The burden for returning Georgetown to the upper echelon of the Big East will be shared amongst the group of individuals who returned to the nation’s capital this fall. They will be hoping to erase the memories of a season that left fans thinking what could have been after starting 10-1 and finding themselves ranked in the top 10 nationally.
When the Hoyas find themselves in another game that comes down to the wire though, Thompson makes no secret about who will be expected to carry the team to victory this time around.
“Greg needs to make sure that a lot of the games we lost last year, we don’t lose this season. He needs to make sure that doesn’t happen.”