Freshman holds key for Hoyas

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The progression of freshman center Henry Sims could be the key to smashing the glass ceiling looming over Georgetown’s season.

As the Hoyas (13-8, 4-6 Big East) prepare for a stretch run that begins Saturday against Cincinnati (15-8, 5-5), Sims’ first season on the Hilltop stands as a classic case study in freshman inconsistency.

“He’s going through that process, just going through the roller coaster ride in terms of production,” coach John Thompson III said. “You’ve seen glimpses, and he just has to settle into his rhythm, which he hasn’t yet.”

After beginning the season with a series of brief appearances defined by errant long-range jumpers, the 6-foot-10, 225-pounder spent the first half of the Big East season showing signs of why he was considered a national top-50 recruit as a senior at Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph High School.

His thunderous follow-up dunk at Notre Dame showcased the athleticism that belies his gawky carriage. He was on the floor the bulk of Georgetown’s game-clinching 21-2 run against Providence, a spurt that occurred with upperclassmen Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers on the bench. And he put together the most impressive performance of his young career four days later in Georgetown’s 88-74 victory against then No. 8 Syracuse, giving the Hoyas three points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in just 11 minutes.

But something happened during the five-game losing streak that immediately followed the Syracuse win: Sims disappeared. After logging double-digit minutes in each of the three games preceding the Hoyas’ five-game crash, Sims averaged just 3.2 minutes during Georgetown’s skid.

“It hurts losing, whether you’re playing or not,” Sims said. “Not playing hurt a lot more, because you’re sitting over there thinking you could do something to help the team. But I’m a team guy, and that’s Coach’s decision.”

Sims once again logged double-digit minutes in Georgetown’s slump-snapping victory against Rutgers on Tuesday night (contributing six points and three rebounds), so it would be easy to pinpoint his minutes as the primary statistical difference between Georgetown’s slump and the victories that bookended it. After all, the Hoyas are 8-1 in games when Sims plays more than 10 minutes and 5-7 when he doesn’t.

But it’s not that simple. Thompson didn’t enter the five losses with a plan to sit Sims. Rather, Sims’ play dictated that the fifth-year coach virtually had to sit him.

Georgetown’s loss at Cincinnati 10 days ago provides a perfect example: Sims entered the game with 16:16 remaining in the second half, the score tied at 35-35 and the Hoyas desperately searching for a spark with Summers out with a tweaked ankle. At the 14:58 mark, Sims converted an assist from fellow freshman big man Greg Monroe into a bucket to give Georgetown a 39-35 lead. Then he blew defensive rotations on three consecutive possessions, resulting in two uncontested 3-pointers and a layup. Suddenly, Cincinnati was up 40-39… and Sims was headed back to the bench.

“It’s just the consistency that is needed every day, be it in practice or in games, that he has to train himself to maintain,” Thompson said. “There’s no doubt that when he’s in there, we’re much longer and some things seem to bounce our way. Once he settles in and gets an understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively, he’s going to be a terrific player.”

For a team attempting to claw its way into the NCAA tournament in spite of one obvious Achilles’ heel - Georgetown ranks 13th in the Big East in rebounding margin at minus 0.5 - Sims’ nose for the ball could be the deciding factor in Georgetown’s postseason destination.

“Every time [Thompson] puts me in the game, he says, ‘Think rebound,’ ” Sims said. “That’s one thing I know I can do.”

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