- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

Last season Georgetown experienced basketball enlightenment under first-year head coach John Thompson III.

Get ready for the Gilded Age.

Thompson’s second season on the Hilltop unofficially begins at tonight’s Midnight Madness celebration amid an impressive buzz of momentum and national expectation. Despite one of the nation’s youngest rosters, the Hoyas finished 19-13 last season, and only a stretch-run swoon kept the program from earning its first NCAA tournament invite since 2001. Thompson welcomes back the top six players from last season, adds a solid four-man recruiting class and enters the brutal new Big East with a squad ranked as high as 20th by one preseason publication (the Sporting News).

“We’re excited to get this year going,” said Thompson. “I think we worked very hard across the board in the offseason. And one thing that is different this year is now we don’t have 13 freshman [relative to learning my system], we have nine sophomores and four freshman. Those guys who were here last year have a much better understanding of the structure of our system. They know what to expect, and they’re ready to add to that and grow.”

About 10 members of the team spent all summer at Georgetown. And to a man, they described the offseason work as more rigorous than in any previous offseason. Senior forward Brandon Bowman, who tested the NBA draft waters before returning for his final season, was one of those players who spent the offseason pushing his teammates in workouts on the court, on the track and in the weight room.

“This has definitely been the hardest we’ve worked in the offseason since I’ve been here. … We busted it pretty good as a group,” said Bowman, who led the team in scoring (15.1 points) last season. “We’re all stronger physically and fundamentally and excited to get started — ready, willing and able.”

Aside from having a full season in Thompson’s system, which requires a heightened hoops IQ and focuses on spacing, screens and sharing, better conditioning is likely to make a huge difference for the Hoyas. Last season’s group, particularly the three freshman who played extensive minutes, seemed to fade physically down the stretch, a stretch that saw the Hoyas lose six of their final seven games en route to stumbling into an NIT bid.

Poor rebounding and foul trouble defined that seven-game stretch, as freshman phenom Jeff Green (13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds) and towering freshman center Roy Hibbert (5.1 points, 3.5 rebounds) saw their numbers decline in the season’s final weeks.

“I think everybody wore down, so I’m not going to use that as an excuse,” said Green, who shared Big East Rookie of the Year honors with Connecticut’s Rudy Gay and has added 15 pounds of muscle and shaved off his dreadlocks.

But nobody on the team looks more transformed than Hibbert, a 7-foot-2, 280-pound monster who earned everybody’s nod as most improved.

“Roy is balling. He’s going to be a big surprise to a lot of people,” said senior point guard Ashanti Cook, who watched Hibbert’s development firsthand as a teammate on his Kenner League team this summer. “He’s been dominating this summer and pretty much everyday in practice.

“He’s got a lot more confidence in himself. He feels like he can score, and he’s no longer hesitant to put it up. Man, he’s 7-2 and confident. It’s tough to stop that. You throw it down to him, and he’s going to score all day. That makes us so much better as a team, because it opens up so much outside.”

With Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, DePaul and South Florida joining the Big East this season, and Duke, Oregon and Illinois on the Hoyas’ nonconference slate, Georgetown will need a more significant contribution from Hibbert.

Hibbert pinpointed solving the team’s rebounding issues as his personal goal this season:

“Rebounding — I’m taking that over. That’s my job, and I’m ready.

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