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Surprising summer bodes well for Hoyas

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

After a somewhat turbulent spring, Georgetown's men's basketball team enjoyed a summer of pleasant surprises.

The latest positive development came Sunday, when a Tombs team composed of sophomore point guard Chris Wright and the Hoyas' incoming freshmen won the Kenner League championship without top recruit Greg Monroe.

A versatile 6-foot-11, 250-pound forward, Monroe sparkled all summer for the Tombs before returning home to Gretna, La., after the school's Community Scholars program. Without Monroe and moonlighting NBA draftee Roy Hibbert anchoring the middle in last week's playoffs, the Tombs needed more production from its other players, particularly 6-10 freshman Henry Sims.

And the young Hoyas responded, rolling through their three playoff games behind the superb backcourt play of Wright (who averaged 21.0 points and 6.3 assists in the playoffs) and Jason Clark (20. 7 points, 6.7 rebounds), and a big finale from Sims.

Anchoring the middle in the championship game against an opponent that featured current and former NBA players Roger Mason Jr. (San Antonio Spurs), Brian Chase, Lonny Baxter and Eddie Basden, Sims scored 24 points to lead the Tombs to an 81-65 victory.

Every Georgetown player on the Tombs lived up to or exceeded expectations during Kenner League play, most notably Clark and redshirt freshman Nikita Mescheriakov.

A 6-2 guard from Bishop O'Connell with long arms, Clark appears to be better than departed guard Jeremiah Rivers (transferred to Indiana) on both ends of the floor. Though his 3-point shot still needs work, Clark was great on the offensive glass throughout the summer and stifled Chase defensively in the title game.

A 6-8 wing player, Mescheriakov proved equally surprising as an impact player for the Tombs. The brother of former George Washington standout Yegor Mescheriakov (1995-99), Nikita came to Georgetown with a reputation as a spot-up shooter with defensive and ball-handling liabilities. But he proved more stubborn on defense than expected and displayed solid footwork and an ability to move with the ball this summer.

"Nikita's play is not a surprise," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "He's worked extremely hard on his strength and consistency, and he is a guy who can put the ball in the basket. He will be a factor."

Georgetown's ultimate summer bonus, however, came in the form of an NCAA waiver for Florida State transfer Julian Vaughn and the Vienna native's subsequent play in the Kenner League.

Vaughn left Tallahassee, Fla., after appearing in 31 games for the Seminoles as a freshman last season, returning to the area to be close to an ailing family member. Still somewhat raw offensively, the 6-9, 246-pound forward is a superb rebounder (averaging a Kenner League-high 11.2), possibly mitigating the three postseason frontcourt departures the team absorbed when Hibbert and Patrick Ewing Jr. exhausted their eligibility and backup center Vernon Macklin transferred to Florida.

"Without a doubt, the news that Julian would be eligible to play for us this season was huge," Thompson said. "It looked like two of our three primary big men were going to be true freshmen, and now you add Julian, a guy who has completed a year of ball in the ACC, so he knows what to expect. Plus, he's a physical presence. He likes the bump and touch. The bonus is that Julian also knows how to score the basketball. I definitely see him as a difference-maker for us."

Add the six aforementioned young players to a team that features three returning starters and a third consecutive first-place finish in the Big East doesn't seem as improbable for the Hoyas as it did at the start of the summer.

"We're going to be very young, but we've got a talented group," Thompson said. "Every season presents a different set of challenges, but I'm excited. I'm looking forward to getting this group all together in the gym in a couple of months and getting the process started."