Though Georgetown’s personnel has changed considerably during John Thompson III’s five-year reign on the Hilltop, Thompson’s core philosophy and the signature of his teams have remained constant.
From season to season and game to game, Thompson’s Hoyas almost always take better shots than their opponents.
The Georgetown bunch that faces No. 17 Memphis (5-1) on Saturday has typified that philosophy so far this season. Looking to avenge an 85-71 loss to the Tigers at FedEx Forum last season, the 19th-ranked Hoyas (6-1) are third in the nation in field goal percentage (53.1) and second in field goal percentage defense (32.8).
Aside from the Hoyas, only No. 11 Wake Forest can claim to be among the NCAA leaders in both categories - and the Demon Deacons (8-0) sit below Georgetown in both departments.
Thompson’s formula for success isn’t complex: Work for high-percentage shots on one end and refuse to allow them on the other.
“It’s pretty much that simple,” he said. “I’m trying to tweak it to throw in a little rebounding.”
No other player personifies Thompson’s teachings like senior guard Jessie Sapp. The 6-foot-3 slasher arrived on campus as an improvisational artist. He was a scorer, not a shooter. Four years later, the flashy player who was once all heart and Harlem has added a jumper and learned to lead with his head.
“He’s grown up,” Thompson said. “He’s someone that with each year the number of shots where you say, ‘Oh no, what is Jessie doing?’ has gone down. He is, for the most part, taking good shots. His decisions this year have been better than they’ve ever been, and he’s playing very well because of that.”
Two seasons ago, St. Louis coach and then-TV analyst Rick Majerus introduced the mainstream media to the concept of a “180 guy,” a player whose combined field goal percentage, free throw percentage and 3-point percentage add up to more than 180. Majerus coined the term during his days with Utah and used it while describing former Georgetown point man Jonathan Wallace, who achieved the mark as a junior.
At the time, nobody would have predicted that Sapp would reach the distinction. Thanks to his years on New York playgrounds, Sapp was and still is Georgetown’s breakdown player, the guy who gets the ball when all else fails and a dwindling shot clock calls for desperate dribble-drive action. Such a role doesn’t lend itself to high shooting percentages, but Sapp enters Saturday as a “195.3 guy.”
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Sapp when informed he was shooting 56.4 percent from the field, 88.9 percent from the line and 50.0 percent from behind the arc. “It’s just something you work on. People doubt that you can shoot. That’s one thing I worked on over the summer, and [Wallace] was one of the people who helped me out.”
One of the reasons Sapp and his teammates shoot such a high percentage is that Thompson reminds them that his entire offense is predicated on the combination of sharing and patience yielding good looks.
“We know what a bad shot is,” said sophomore point guard Chris Wright, who has morphed from a prolific prep scorer to an adept setup man. “And especially with our system, if you shoot a bad shot, that’s a selfish shot. Everybody knows that, and none of us wants to be that guy.”
Defensively, Sapp has always been a glowing example of Thompson’s stifling mandate. Dating to his sophomore season, Sapp has routinely drawn the opposing team’s premier perimeter threat. Earlier this season at the Old Spice Classic, Sapp was primarily responsible for holding Maryland star Greivis Vasquez to two points in Georgetown’s 75-48 victory against the Terrapins.
The stakes go up Saturday, when Sapp draws Memphis freshman standout Tyreke Evans (16.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists).
“You know I don’t back down from anybody, so I’m honored to get that assignment,” Sapp said. “I don’t think it’s anything that I haven’t seen before, between playing four years of college ball plus street ball and all that stuff. I think I’ll be fine on him. … I’m going to play him tough and hard and try not to let him drive on me.”