- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

History fancies the young Hoyas.

When Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace and Patrick Ewing Jr. collected their degrees last spring, they took with them the core that helped Georgetown coach John Thompson III resurrect a Big East powerhouse.

That departing class compiled a 100-36 record, three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, back-to-back regular-season conference titles and the program’s first visit to the Final Four in more than two decades.

With only Jessie Sapp remaining from the Hilltop’s version of the Fab Five - Jeff Green left for the NBA in 2007 - Big East coaches picked the Hoyas to finish seventh this season. At first glance, such a slide seems likely.

Half of Thompson’s expected eight-man rotation is composed of first-year players: Florida State transfer Julian Vaughn and freshmen Greg Monroe, Jason Clark and Henry Sims. Another key cog, sophomore starting point guard Chris Wright, missed all of conference play last season with a foot injury. Factor in the strength of the Big East - four top-10 teams - and one of the most ambitious nonconference schedules in Georgetown history, and a rocky rebuilding project seems imminent.

“We’ve got a serious challenge on our hands,” Thompson said.

The Hoyas open Monday against Jacksonville. Later this month is the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., which could yield games against No. 6 Michigan State, No. 10 Gonzaga and No. 14 Tennessee. No. 13 Memphis visits in December, and the early Big East slate - which Thompson deemed “scary” - includes No. 2 Connecticut, No. 5 Pittsburgh and No. 9 Notre Dame.

“And I’ve got a young team,” Thompson said.

Young but talented. A closer look reveals a squad that starts the season in a situation similar to the 2006-07 bunch that fought its way to the Final Four. That’s why Associated Press voters ranked the Hoyas No. 22 and why nobody in the program expects a drop-off.

“Nobody is giving us a chance to win the league, and I love that,” said Sapp, the team’s lone scholarship senior. “Emotionally, it’s much easier to perform as an underdog. Personally, I love when the target is not on our back and people think we can’t do this and can’t do that.

“We’ll show people. We’ll shock the world.”

Thompson and Co. have been here before. After the Hoyas’ run to the Sweet 16 in 2005-06, Georgetown lost two multiseason starters (Brandon Bowman and Ashanti Cook) and the Big East’s premier sixth man (Darrel Owens). They returned three starters (Green, Hibbert and Wallace), one key bench player (Sapp) and added a transfer (Ewing) and three freshmen (DaJuan Summers, Vernon Macklin and Jeremiah Rivers).

The numbers this season are identical. Starters Sapp (9.7 points, 3.2 assists), Summers (11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds) and Austin Freeman (9.1 points) return and are expected to be joined in the starting lineup by Wright (the key returning bench player) and Monroe, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center from Gretna, La., who spent the bulk of his prep career as the top-ranked recruit in his class.

“I love the kid,” Summers said of Monroe. “He works tremendously hard, and he has a great personality. He’s very charismatic.”

Although the 2008-09 Hoyas don’t feature a 7-2 center (Hibbert) or an NBA lottery pick (Green) like the 2006-07 team, neither Hibbert nor Green was close to the player each would become entering that Final Four season. Hibbert was a slow-footed project, and Green - much like Summers - was inconsistent.

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