- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

On an otherwise bleak night streaked with the orange blur that was the Illinois offense, Georgetown’s starting freshman duo provided a promising glimpse of a bright future in the fog of a 74-59 loss.

When you’re a first-season coach at the helm of a green team attempting to emerge from a multi-season tailspin, playing the nation’s No.1 team in December is a little like handing out both the syllabus and the final exam on the first day of class. You expect confusion, frustration, chaos and angst.

As a coach, you don’t expect a victory — not against a polished final product like Illinois (8-0). You do expect to find out which of your men will scrap rather than sulk.

Georgetown coach John Thompson III discovered a pair of young warriors last night against Illinois. On a night when junior leading scorer Brandon Bowman (seven points) was harassed and flustered into virtual non-factor status, freshmen Jeff Green and Jonathan Wallace kept the Hoyas (3-2) from being embarrassed at home.

Despite being limited to 28 minutes of playing time due to first-half foul trouble, Green responded to the Illinois challenge with a career-high 20 points, all but two in a second half in which he refused to let the Hoyas suffer a hometown humiliation.

“Green causes so many matchup problems because he’s a big man who can move, put it on the floor and shoot,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. “He’s going to be a pretty good one.”

Weber should know: He’s got about a dozen good ones on his roster, highlighted by the potent perimeter trio of Dee Brown (seven points, six assists), Luther Head (13 points, five assists) and Deron Williams (eight points, five assists). That threesome makes Illinois perhaps the quickest team in the nation, and the Hoyas simply couldn’t handle what seemed like a perpetual fast break for the Illini.

Veterans Bowman, junior Ashanti Cook and senior Darrel Owens seemed dazzled by Illinois’ speed. They never adjusted their games, and the result was a series of turnovers, forced shots leading to Illini transition hoops, slow-rotating interior defense and a 22-17 lead that devolved into a 50-32 deficit in 12 dizzying minutes overlapping intermission.

The only two Hoyas who adapted and answered were Green and Wallace (10 points), the only other Georgetown player in double digits.

There are few comparisons between the two other than their starting freshman status. Green is a 6-foot-9, 225-pound blue-chipper from Hyattsville (Northwestern High School). Wallace is a walk-on, a 6-1 guard from Harvest, Ala., whom Thompson recruited at Princeton because he possesses the patience, care and hoops acumen required to run the coach’s efficiency-based offense.

Asked in a preseason interview which Hoya might surprise fans, Thompson said he hoped all of them would before adding, “You might watch Wallace. He’s a steal.”

Last night, with Brown in his face for 94 feet from tip to whistle, Wallace made four of seven shots and added two assists and two steals against only two turnovers — a fair line that doesn’t do justice to his calm in the face of the Illinois storm.

And Green might already be the Hoyas most valuable player. Though still somewhat raw, this braided warrior has a wider array of skills than any Georgetown player in a decade.

He’s equally comfortable in the post or on the perimeter, leading the Hoyas in rebounding (8.0) but also shooting a solid 50 percent from 3-point range. He’s at once a swooping athletic defender (3.5 blocks) and a solid student of the game who leads the team in assists (17 in five games).

“He wears a lot of hats for us,” said Thompson.

If he and his pal Jon get some help and some seasoning, it’s only a slight stretch to think one of those hats eventually will be made of Madison Square Garden nylon.

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