HELLER: Welcome diversion for fading Hoyas

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Georgetown paid a 25th-anniversary tribute to its 1984 NCAA men’s basketball champions Saturday at Verizon Center, and you have to admire the timing.

Anything to take folks’ minds off the disastrously faltering current edition, which has lost eight of its last nine games and has about as much chance of making this season’s March Madness as the Wizards do of making the NBA playoffs.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. Nobody will remember this gritty but green Georgetown team in 25 years - or maybe in 25 seconds after its season officially and mercifully ends.

The last couple of months might have been worse for the Hoyas than for Rod Blagojevich, Tom Daschle and Marion Barry combined. The future seemed to bear unlimited promise after they whipped currently top-ranked Connecticut in late December, but all that signal victory did was hoist the Hoyas to the top of a seesaw.

Saturday’s 78-72 loss to Marquette - ho-hum, what else is new? - dropped Georgetown to 14-11 overall and 5-9 in the fearful Big East. That left the Hoyas needing to win all four of their remaining conference games to stand any chance of gaining an at-large NCAA tournament berth.

Of course, they could get in by winning next month’s Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, but right now DePaul (0-14 in league play) might stand a better chance.

After Saturday’s latest slap in the face, a man asked Georgetown coach John Thompson III if this has been the most difficult of his five seasons on the Hilltop.

JT3 didn’t waste any words: “Period. … Yes.”

So it’s little wonder that Georgetown partisans in the crowd of 17,686 whooped it up during the halftime huzzahs.

Following a Jumbotron review of the 1984 team’s accomplishments, eight gently aging veterans trooped to midcourt: Gene Smith, Horace Broadnax, Billy Martin, Ralph Dalton, Victor Morris, Michael Graham, Michael Jackson and manager David Green. University president John DeGioia presented each man with a crystal serving bowl and, presumably, heartfelt thanks.

Unfortunately, the two most visible persons from that championship run weren’t on the floor. All-American center Patrick Ewing was otherwise occupied as an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic, though he was represented by a videotaped message.

Coach John Thompson Jr., who attended a dinner for his old players Friday night, chose for some reason to sit in the stands - thereby depriving spectators of a chance to rightly salute the man who first boosted Georgetown’s program into the national spotlight.

This didn’t make much sense, but Big John has never been one to act conventionally.

Meanwhile, the other relics from Georgetown’s short-pants basketball era had a fine time rehashing great moments from their glory days. Nobody enjoyed it more than Gene Smith, a defensive specialist who captained the championship team but missed the 84-75 title-game bashing of Houston because of a sprained arch.

“I don’t have any regrets about that,” said Smith, who now works in Los Angeles as a consultant for an athletic footwear and apparel firm. “This weekend… you almost can’t put into words what it means because of the stories and camaraderie, the caring and sharing.”

For Smith, the championship win was extra special. He was a member of the 1982 Hoyas, who lost the Final Four finale to North Carolina 63-62 after Hoyas guard Fred Brown infamously tossed a pass to the Tar Heels’ James Worthy in the closing seconds.

“I felt bad for Freddy, but I missed a free throw right before that that would have tied the score,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m glad nobody brought that up this weekend.”

Broadnax, now the coach at Savannah State, savored his second trip to Verizon Center much more than the first on Dec. 8, when the Hoyas hammered his squad 100-38.

“What I learned most in four years at Georgetown was not to give up,” he said. “It was extremely tough because Coach Thompson pushed us really hard. I could have quit and walked away - but I didn’t. What he gave me was a foundation [for the rest of my life].”

So the memories and the magic that used to be Georgetown basketball lived anew over the weekend, and now the latter-day Hoyas need to create some of their own.

Wait till next year.

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