Georgetown junior center Roy Hibbert is poised to make the final jump from project to powerhouse.
In a 2005 season defined by the quantum leaps of players like Florida's Joakim Noah and Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray, the Georgetown giant might not have been the poster boy for most improved. But he certainly belonged in the frame.
The 7-foot-2 native of Adelphi, Md., doubled his freshman productivity during last year's regular season and then tripled it in the NCAA tournament, averaging 15.7 points, 10.0 points and 2.3 blocks during Georgetown's run to the Sweet 16.
The return of Hibbert, fellow All-Big East forward Jeff Green and seasoned point guard Jonathan Wallace has the Hoyas ranked among the preseason top 10 by most publications. But even that lofty ranking doesn't do justice to one daunting fact: Hibbert has enjoyed another epic growth spurt this summer.
"I think I've made a similar jump this offseason," Hibbert said recently. "I've trimmed down to about 270 pounds from 285, but I've added a lot more muscle. I'd guess I've lost 25 pounds or so of fat, and that's really increased my mobility and quickness."
Hibbert put his more explosive game on display as a counselor at the prestigious Nike All-American Camp, where he and LSU's Glen Davis were the dominant players on hand. He shined in the Kenner League, averaging 26 points and 12 rebounds while leading his team to the league title.
"I know it's just a summer league, but the big fella can ball," former Maryland star Lonny Baxter said after Hibbert torched his team for 32 points and 15 rebounds in the title game.
Hibbert has added range and consistency to his baby hook. He now has a turnaround baseline jumper, a nasty tool for a man his size. And he even looks relatively comfortable putting the ball on the floor, evidenced by one play in the Kenner League that prompted an NBA scout to curse in awe.
No one would call the new-look Hibbert quick, not on the same Hilltop on which Allen Iverson once played. But Hibbert has attained a new level of efficiency and elegance without sacrificing the raw, old-school desire that defined his sophomore style.
"Last year I was still figuring out post basics," Hibbert said. "Now I've moved on to work on other stuff. I'm shooting the ball more, working on setting screens, footwork and passing. I became a comfortable scorer last year. Now that other teams know that, I know I'm going to see a lot more double teams. So I'm working a lot on double-team situations. I think recognizing and handling double teams is the next major step in my progression."
Few double teams were expected for Hibbert when he arrived at Georgetown in 2004 as a gangly, injury-prone player coach John Thompson III and his staff had to "teach how to run." But Hibbert has dedicated himself to improving to the delight of Thompson.
"He's 7-2 with great hands, great attitude and great aptitude," Thompson said. "That's puts him in pretty select group. Roy's very special, maybe most of all because he knows he still has a long way to go. That's why you know he's going to get there."
Hibbert made huge strides in the summer after his freshman year and began last season by dominating lesser competition like Navy (20 points) and James Madison (23). By the end of the season, he was starting to do so against elite competition.
Hibbert was nearly unstoppable in the second round of the NCAAs against No. 2 seed Ohio State, posting 20 points and 14 rebounds as he and Green combined to overwhelm Big Ten player of the year Terence Dials.
"The NCAAs were big for my confidence," Hibbert said. "In those games, Jeff and I had it going, and the guys kept coming to us. We fed off their trust, and when I got the ball in the post, every time I felt like I was either going to score or get someone else an open look. It was an unbelievable feeling."
Georgetown is hoping that feeling becomes fairly typical for Hibbert, especially after losing three senior perimeter players from a 23-10 team.
While Green might be the Big East's steadiest star and Wallace one of its most reliable, the Hoyas' success this season likely hinges on Hibbert -- and his ability to play as he did in the NCAA tournament, not as the dud who failed to crack double-digits in nearly half (10 of 21) of the team's conference games.
"I had some games last year when I wasn't scoring where I let it frustrate me," Hibbert said. "Two years ago, foul trouble held me back. Last year, I think I occasionally got frustrated, and that kept me from being consistent. I'm a very emotional person, and I'm still trying to harness that and channel it."
Perhaps some of that energy will go toward the leadership void left by the departures of the senior trio of Ashanti Cook, Brandon Bowman and Darrel Owens. Hibbert is by far the most vocal of the three juniors now in command of the squad.
"Last year's team belonged to those guys. This year is different. This squad belongs to our junior core of players, and I'm going to be more vocal because I'm part of that leadership," Hibbert said. "Last year when I worked so hard to get myself in shape my goal was to be the most improved player on the team. Now I don't feel like I have to prove anything anymore personally, but I have to make sure we win. I guess the best way to put it was that last year I was focused on improving myself. This year I'm focused on improving my team. I'm dedicating the next two years of my life to getting another national championship banner hanging in McDonough."
Thompson and the rest of Georgetown is salivating at the thought of Hibbert remaining on the Hilltop for two more years. And even though NBADraft.net lists Big Roy as a first-round pick in next year's draft, Hibbert has never wavered from his intention to play out his college eligibility.
"I'm totally committed to staying here for four years because I love Georgetown and being a student here," Hibbert said. "Plus, ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a part of the Georgetown tradition. My dream was always to have people talk about me as one of the great ones in Georgetown's line of centers. I watch tapes of Patrick [Ewing] and Alonzo [Mourning] and Dikembe [Mutombo], and that's the epitome of what I want to be. That's a four-year project. And hopefully after four years, I'll have a chance to be mentioned in that company."