When the Hoyas open their season Nov. 17 against Jacksonville, coach John Thompson III will look out on the floor and see an unfamiliar sight. For the first time in his tenure, Thompson's team will take the floor without the player he described as his "security blanket."
"Oh, my God. That's going to be tough," said senior guard Jessie Sapp, who spent the better part of the last three seasons opposite Wallace in the Georgetown backcourt. "Those are going to be hard shoes to fill. But Chris [Wright], that's my guy. ... We just kind of click on the court. I know he's up to the challenge."
A 6-foot-1 sophomore from Bowie, Wright is expected to join coveted freshman Greg Monroe and returning regulars Sapp, Austin Freeman and DaJuan Summers in the starting lineup.
Though he spent the bulk of last season sidelined with a foot injury, Wright came to Georgetown from St. John's Prep as a McDonald's All-American and the first three-time All-Met selection since Adrian Dantley (DeMatha, 1971-73). Wright won the 3-point shooting contest at the 2007 McDonald's All-American Classic and displayed that same talent in limited action for the Hoyas last season, when he shot a team-high 47.8 percent from behind the arc.
But as Sapp's reaction to Wallace's absence reveals, Wallace's contributions to the Hoyas far outstrip his modest career statistics (9.3 points, 2.8 assists).
Wallace started all 136 games of his Georgetown career, which ranks third in school history. He ranks first in school history in 3-pointers made (240), 3-point percentage (.433) and free throw percentage (.821).
More importantly, Wallace was the most consistent cog for a Georgetown team that, over the last two seasons, won back-to-back Big East regular-season titles, earned a Final Four berth and posted a 58-13 overall record (.817).
"Jon had the uncanny ability to not get rattled at all about anything, no matter what the situation," said Wright, who last season averaged 5.7 points and 2.1 assists in 16 games. "Whether he was having a great game, and Jon could go off and hit as many 3s as anybody, or a horrible game, his facial expression was always the same. He always had a very cool demeanor."
Wright is more outspoken than the mild-mannered Wallace. But that could be what the youthful Hoyas need. His leadership duties began this summer. Wright directed a team principally composed of Georgetown's three highly touted freshmen (Monroe, Henry Sims and Jason Clark) to the Kenner League championship.
In terms of skill and talent, Wright rates ahead of Wallace in most respects. He's quicker and more aggressive with the ball, which prompted Thompson to admit that this season's Hoyas likely will play at a much faster pace than in recent seasons. Wright also possesses better handle, superior penetration skills, a more fundamentally sound jumpshot and greater defensive upside than Wallace. But does he possess Wallace's hoops IQ and ability to run Thompson's complex offense without forcing the issue?
"He is beyond his years in terms of his appreciation of the game and knowledge of the history of the game," Thompson said. "He has to grow, but it's not like the growth our freshman will go through in terms of the level of competition and the rigors of practice and the ebb and flow of the season. It's more that he has to understand not only how to put himself in good positions but how to put his teammates in positions to be successful. ... Now he's a confident fellow, and that's what makes him what he is. That's what makes him special."
Wright doesn't seem nervous about taking the reins of the team from Wallace.
"It's an adjustment. At times you sit back and think, 'Wow, not only is this college basketball, I'm in the Big East,' " Wright said. "At the same time, it's nothing different. It's basketball, and I've been waiting all my life for this chance. I'm nervous because I'm excited, but I don't feel timid or anything. I'm ready.
"[Wallace and Co.] brought a sense of pride and tradition back to Georgetown. It's our turn now. Everybody's up to the task, and we're not just saying that. We're going to prove it."