- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

Beware the Big Easy. Georgetown’s Greg Monroe served notice to Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet and the rest of the Big East earlier this week: There’s a new star at Big Man U.

The 6-foot-11 center from New Orleans starred in Georgetown’s 74-63 road victory Monday. For those who would dismiss Monroe’s 16 points, three rebounds, four assists and three steals as nothing special, consider that his performance came on the road … in his first Big East game … against the No. 2 team in the nation … while matched up with Connecticut’s 7-3 preseason All-American … and despite foul trouble.

“I was interested to see how he would do because that was really his first time playing against a guy who was that tall who was good,” said Georgetown senior guard Jessie Sapp, who saw Monroe team with DaJuan Summers and Julian Vaughn to hold Thabeet to four points. “He was great, but I wasn’t really surprised. The kid is good. He understands the game of basketball and how to get his points and his teammates involved.

“He doesn’t feel like a freshman to me. He’s so ahead of his time.”

Nearly three decades ago, Patrick Ewing arrived on the Hilltop with a freakish athleticism that belied his size, beginning Georgetown’s love affair with talented centers. From Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo to Othella Harrington, Mike Sweetney and Roy Hibbert, Georgetown has enjoyed one of the nation’s most impressive parades of post players ever since.

But perhaps none of those players was truly “ahead of his time” like Monroe. Monroe doesn’t defend like Mutombo, leap like Ewing, menace like Mourning or post like Sweetney. Monroe - who averages 12.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.8 steals - does a little of all of that, the sum of which is arguably greater than that of any of his prestigious predecessors.

Find another Georgetown center who could pass or dribble like Monroe, much less as a freshman. It took Hibbert four years to develop a long-range shot; Monroe drilled two 3-pointers in his first Big East start.

“Though it’s only one game, Monroe made a pretty strong statement,” said an NBA scout, one of nearly 30 on hand for the Hoyas’ first victory at Connecticut since 1997. “Freshman bigs always have some obvious holes in their games, but I’m still searching for Monroe’s. He’s very, very, very special.”

Monroe is more of a center/high-post hybrid than a pure pivot - perhaps a larger, more agile version of 2007 NBA lottery pick Jeff Green. Like Green, Monroe always looks for his teammates.

“I think that’s what attracted us to each other,” coach John Thompson III said. “I think his strengths and the way we play were a very good match.”

Monroe said he chose the Hoyas over Duke and nearly every other college power based largely on Thompson’s honesty.

“I think the biggest thing was just being comfortable with Coach Thompson,” he said. “A lot of promises were made [at other schools], but he just came in and told me, ‘You’re going to work and you’re going to get better’ - because he said he wasn’t going to let me come here and not get better.”

A number of NBA experts are casting Monroe as a lottery pick in June’s draft; ESPN’s Chad Ford projects him as the No. 4 pick. But true to his team-first game, such talk doesn’t resonate with Monroe.

“I’m still growing and trying to fit in,” said Monroe, adding that he loves the relative anonymity of campus life at Georgetown. “Even though you might see stuff on TV and think that I’m feeling pretty good, I’m still trying to grow and learn what Coach really wants out of me. … It’s not hard to push all that aside when you’ve got [No. 3] Pittsburgh coming to town.”

After acing his first on-court exam, Monroe faces Pittsburgh sophomore forward DeJuan Blair (13.7 points, 12.1 rebounds) on Saturday.

“You watch [Blair] on TV, and you see how physical he is,” Monroe said. “Thankfully, I know my team has my back. That’s why we had success at Connecticut - because we trusted each other and all believed in the game plan.”

As the season unfolds, expect the Hoyas’ game plan to look more and more like the Monroe Doctrine.