Hoyas Overcoming Adversity
Youthful, inexperienced Georgetown team rekindles signature toughness.
by Scott Gleeson / @ScottMGleeson
Considering the Georgetown hoops team lost its top two scorers and with youth and inexperience flooding its roster, expectations weren’t high heading into the ‘11-12 season.
On top of that, a summer incident marred the program’s integrity. When the Hoyas traveled to China for a series of summer games in an attempt to grow together as a basketball team, all hell broke loose.
An exhibition game against the Bayi Military Rockets team turned into a violent brawl that saw players punching and tackling each other, chairs being thrown and spectators tossing water bottles at Georgetown players before coach John Thompson III pulled his players into the locker room for safety.
Thompson issued a statement saying he “sincerely regretted” the situation’s occurrence. While the brawl painted an ugly picture on what was supposed to be a China-US “friendship match” in Beijing, Thompson noticed the maturity it gave his team afterward.
“Everybody wants to talk about the fight,” Thompson said. “As a coach, as an educator, you don’t want your kids to learn from something like that…but, we had to protect ourselves. That incident brought us closer together, there’s no doubt. It taught them to have each other’s backs and gain that trust in each other. It was an unfortunate way to learn, but we’re better because of it.”
The brawl, which went viral, has provided players with a strong chemistry on and off the court that’s showing early on in the season.
After being selected to finish 10th out of 16 teams in the Big East pre-season coaches’ poll, the Hoyas (No. 16 AP, USA Today polls) are off to a 9-1 start and are one of six Big East squads ranked in the top 25.
“China really brought us together,” senior guard Jason Clark said. “We had a lot of new guys, young guys and we were able to bond. Our chemistry is great off the court and that carries over.”
Clark, who was one of Georgetown’s Big Three which featured Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, now has his time to shine in his senior season. Following a junior campaign where he averaged 12 points and 4 rebounds a game, he’s now leading the Hoyas in scoring (15.5 ppg), while taking on more of a leadership role.
“My role is to be a leader, to go out every single day—practice or game—and work the hardest, then demand that of the other guys,” Clark said. “This year, I have a bigger role with the scoring load. But a lot of what I do is the same, I’m still a defensive stopper.”
His coach echoed those thoughts.
“In many ways, Jason’s role has changed but it also hasn’t changed at all, if that makes sense,” Thompson III said. “He’s always scored for us. He blended in with Chris and Austin. But now, it’s more on him. And the thing Jason has always done is lead by example. Since his freshman year, he’s been the first to finish in sprints. That speaks for itself.”
While Clark is the Hoyas main returner, the right pieces have fallen into place on a 13-man roster that features 10 freshman and sophomores.
The biggest surprise has come from 6-10 senior big man Henry Sims, who transformed from project player to a legitimate paint presence almost overnight.
After averaging 3.6 ppg and 3.2 rpg in 14 minutes per game last season, Sims is putting up solid numbers—12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game in 23 minutes of action. And don’t look now, but Sims is dropping dimes like he’s a point guard—he’s leading the team in assists at 3.9 per game.
“My teammates are always cutting hard, so it’s my job to get them the ball,” said Sims, who earned the reputation as the team’s biggest prankster according to Clark. He was running for Georgetown University Student Association Vice President and listed chess, not basketball, as his hobby.
Also emerging into a bigger role this season is 6-8 swing forward Hollis Thompson, an NBA prospect who’s averaging 14.7 points and 5.8 rebounds a game.
Sophomore guard Markel Starks, sophomore forward Nate Lubick and 6-8 freshmen Otto Porter and Greg Whittington all have stepped up as underclassmen to help the Hoyas operate a potent offense and a stingy defense.
“When we pick it up defensively, we’re better offensively because we get more possessions,” said Thompson, who hit a game-winning fadeaway three-pointer to help Georgetown knock off then No. 12 Alabama. “Our defense gets us going.”
Georgetown’s only loss has come against Kansas. One of its notable wins came in the Maui Invitational vs Memphis, a 91-88 overtime thriller. Both teams will meet again on Thursday when Georgetown hosts the Tigers for a rematch.
After that, it’s on to the Big East conference play, where Clark knows it’s never easy.
“The Big East is always brutal,” he said. “We just have to believe in each other like we’ve already been doing this season. We can’t get complacent or cocky, we just have to take it one game at a time… People can go ahead and doubt us. We’ll do the talking on the court.”
Following an early exit in the NCAA Tournament last season—a first-round loss to eventual Final Four team VCU, Thompson III believes this Georgetown team not only has the right ingredients, but the right recipe to go far in the postseason.
“This year’s team is playing for each other,” he said. “They believe in what we’re doing. We have a tough group of guys. In many ways, our team is very versatile, especially defensively from a young, athletic standpoint. They understand they have to grind it out. It’s a matter of imposing your will on the other team, which we’re good at.”