Over­looked Hoyas over­achieved

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY PA­TRICK STEVENS

COLUM­BUS, OHIO | In the sear­ing pain of their final mo­ments to­gether, right down to the mis­er­able trudge out of the locker room ev­ery bas­ket­ball team with­out a net-cut­ting cer­e­mony to cap its sea­son in­evitably takes, it wasn’t hard for Ge­orge­town to look back.

To the bond­ing of its off­sea­son trip to China that proved more event­ful than any­one might have guessed thanks to a brawl.

To the pre­sea­son prog­nos­ti­ca­tions peg­ging the Hoyas to fin­ish a mea­ger 10th in the 16-team Big East.

To how, in a man­ner acutely felt across the ros­ter, Ge­orge­town lived up to its tra­di­tion even if it bowed out of the NCAA tour­na­ment ear­lier than it hoped.

“The only peo­ple who be­lieved in us this whole sea­son were the guys in this room,” se­nior guard Ja­son Clark said. “We weren’t picked to do any­thing this year. Peo­ple doubted us, but I think we worked hard for the suc­cess that we got.” That is an un­der­state­ment. It was easy enough to frame the 6663 loss to N.C. State on Sun­day as the lat­est post­sea­son calamity for the Hoyas (24-9). And on the sur­face, a fourth con­sec­u­tive NCAA ap­pear­ance end­ing with a loss to dou­ble-digit seed (Ge­orge­town was a No. 3 seed, N.C. State a No. 11) fits the nar­ra­tive.

But look back at those sea­sons and mea­sure the ini­tial ex­pec­ta­tions, how­ever flawed they were. The 2008 team was ranked fifth in the pre­sea­son, re­mained in the top 10 much of the win­ter and were downed in the round of 32. The 2010 and 2011 out­fits be­gan their sea­sons at No. 20 and re­mained main­stays in the na­tional polls.

Even the 2009 bunch that stum­bled to an NIT ap­pear­ance was ranked un­til the end of Jan­uary.

These guys? Nary a vote in ei­ther ma­jor pre­sea­son poll.

“For 10 un­der­class­men, I think we did a great job, but it’s still not enough,” sopho­more guard Markel Starks said.

Per­haps not right now. Yet un­like their im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors, there was no sign of se­vere slip­page in late Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. In­stead, the Hoyas sim­ply plugged along, win­ning two and los­ing one with re­mark­able steadi­ness over the final five weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Much of the credit could be placed on Clark and Henry Sims, the vet­er­ans who ul­ti­mately de­fined their ca­reers not based on the pro­gram’s past dis­ap­point­ments but in­stead with vir­tu­oso se­nior sea­sons.

Clark was long the over­looked back­court com­po­nent, but still a proven en­tity. He wrapped up his ca­reer with 1,363 points, 20th in school his­tory and just shy of for­mer team­mate Chris Wright’s 1,369.

Sims, mean­while, was a rev­e­la­tion as the nexus of the Hoyas’ of­fense af­ter three years as a ro­ta­tional re­serve, and his ab­sence was acutely felt when he en­coun­tered foul trou­ble Sun­day.

To­gether, they helped shep­herd Ge­orge­town through a sea­son fea­tur­ing only one los­ing streak (Jan. 7-9 against West Virginia and Cincin­nati) and the pro­gram’s best scor­ing de­fense (59.4 points per game) in four years.

“We haven’t al­ways had suc­cess, but it’s a group that all year fought for each other and cared about each other, and I’m proud to be as­so­ci­ated with these guys,” coach John Thompson III said.

There was lit­tle in­cen­tive to look ahead, but the Hoyas couldn’t be blamed if they quickly em­brace the fu­ture. Three starters re­turn. Three fresh­men, in­clud­ing the im­pres­sive Otto Porter, av­er­aged at least 10 min­utes.

And those ex­pec­ta­tions, ab­sent at the start of this sea­son, so of­ten as­signed to Ge­orge­town. They’ll be back in Oc­to­ber. With only one se­nior on next year’s ros­ter, they’ll be around for some time to come, too.

“I’ve never been a part of some­thing where the younger guys are semi-lead­ers,” Starks said. “I think for the guys re­turn­ing, we won’t for­get this feel­ing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ge­orge­town coach John Thompson III guided a team with 10 un­der­class­men to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tour­na­ment.

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