- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

NEW YORK — The Georgetown men’s basketball team officially was branded as one of the league favorites yesterday at Big East Media Day.

The league’s coaches picked the Hoyas to finish second in the 16-team conference behind Pittsburgh and made Georgetown juniors Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert two of only four unanimous selection’s to the preseason All-Big East team.

“We have a group of guys that has never been in a position where people are coming for them,” said third-year coach John Thompson III, whose charges reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last season before falling 57-53 to eventual national champion Florida. “We’ve been in a position the last couple of years where teams may think about you or they might not.

“We have to make the transition from being the hunter to being the hunted. It requires a different level of focus because we’re going to get everybody’s best shot now. That’s new to us, and we have to develop the mind-set to deal with it.”

When Thompson took over the program from his father’s longtime assistant, Craig Esherick, after the 2004 season, the Hoyas were reeling after the team’s worst finish (13-15) in more than 30 years. But in just 30 months, Thompson has engineered a masterful turnaround, following his 19-13 debut with a 23-10 mark last season that included an upset of top-ranked Duke and a 70-52 demolition of Big Ten champion Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“It would be easy to look at two years ago, when [the Big East coaches] picked us to finish next-to-last, and then at this year, where they have us next-to-first, and pat yourself on the back,” Thompson said. “That’s a big difference, but I feel and our guys feel that we still have a lot of room for improvement. Individually and collectively we’re still hungry to get better.”

Few players in the Big East were as improved last season as Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 center who averaged 11.6 points and 6.9 rebounds and was almost unstoppable in the NCAA tournament. And few players in the nation are more versatile than Green, a 6-foot-9 forward who led the Hoyas last season in scoring (11.9 points) and assists (3.3) and finished second to Hibbert in rebounding (6.5).

“The notoriety and respect is nice and all, but we don’t really pay much attention to it,” Green said yesterday of his and the team’s preseason laurels. “You’ve got to be careful that you don’t listen to all that and get bigheaded. Sure, we got some glimpses last year of how good we can be. Sure, it’s nice that others noticed. But none of us is satisfied.”

Green and Hibbert join junior point guard Jon Wallace to give the Hoyas three returning starters. And Thompson is hopeful the loss of senior staples Ashanti Cook, Brandon Bowman and Darrel Owens will be somewhat offset by the maturation of sophomore guard Jessie Sapp and the addition of a quartet of newcomers that includes Indiana transfer Patrick Ewing Jr. and coveted freshman frontcourt prospects Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers.