Georgetown basketball won’t be the same without the program’s senior soul man.
The lone scholarship senior on Georgetown’s roster, charismatic guard Jessie Sapp likely will play his final home game Saturday when the Hoyas close the regular season against DePaul.
While his final campaign on the Hilltop has mirrored the squad’s collective disappointment, Sapp closes his career as one of the most productive, passionate and popular players in program history. } “It went by so quick. I can’t believe it’s over. It’s touching, honestly,” Sapp said with a wistful version of his signature toothy grin. “It’s been a good ride. I’m going to miss these guys more than anyone knows.” Statistics don’t do justice to Sapp’s impact, but the 6-foot-3 guard from New York is one of the school’s career leaders in 3-pointers (sixth with 142), games (10th, 133), assists (15th, 306), steals (19th, 142), rebounds (29th, 513) and points (47th, 937).
The only remaining member of coach John Thompson III’s first recruiting class at Georgetown, Sapp arrived on the Hilltop for the 2005-06 season with a resume that seemed antithetical to Thompson’s Princeton system.
Sapp was a playground virtuoso who learned the game on the courts opposite his family’s apartment in the Woodrow Wilson housing development in Harlem, N.Y. He had never played a minute of organized high school ball before an AAU coach discovered him and helped him get a scholarship to National Christian Academy in Fort Washington for his junior year of 2003-04.
“Pretty much all New York players come from Brooklyn, the Bronx or Queens,” Sapp said. “For me to actually come out of Harlem and make it and represent them and have Harlem on my back, that’s a great feeling.”
Instead of a hindrance, Sapp’s street-hardened style proved to be his ultimate asset. A bridge between Coach Thompsons past and present, the tenacious, emotional guard — who began his athletic career as a boxer — provided the perfect complement for a backcourt featuring California casual Ashanti Cook and calm, cerebral Jon Wallace. Sapp brought an edgy toughness to Thompson’s finesse-oriented teams, developing into the lockdown perimeter defender and improvisational scorer for the Georgetown team that reached the Final Four in his sophomore season.
It was Sapp who drew players like Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds and North Carolina’s Ty Lawson for the Hoyas’ run to a sweep of the Big East titles and through the East Region of the NCAAs in 2007. It was Sapp who stood up to players like Boston College’s Jared Dudley, exchanging shoves and technical fouls with the All-American in Georgetown’s second-round NCAA tournament victory after Dudley insinuated that the Hoyas were unathletic and soft.
“He’s tough,” Thompson said. “When we were recruiting him, you watch him play… and realize you weren’t watching the quickest cat or the best shooter or the best defender, but he had a knack for willing his way through tough situations. And you’ve seen that here for four years. Jessie Sapp is a competitor.”
As a junior, Sapp refined his offensive skills, drastically improving his 3-point shooting percentage (.296 to .411) and morphing into a clutch shooter for a team that repeated as the league’s regular-season champion. Sapp buried last-minute 3s in key wins against Syracuse and West Virginia and led Georgetown’s rout of Villanova in the Big East tournament quarterfinals by hitting six of nine 3-pointers en route to a career-high 23 points.
In typical fashion, though, Sapp’s favorite moment wasn’t one of his brilliant flashes; it was the last-minute 3-pointer Wallace made against North Carolina to force overtime in the East Region final in 2007.
“We set that up, and it came off perfectly,” said Sapp, who collected the assist on the play. “Everybody started to believe again when that shot went in. That was an unbelievable feeling.”
Nobody is certain what went wrong for Sapp this season; his scoring and shooting percentages plummeted before he was replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt freshman swingman Nikita Mescheriakov. The team’s emotional and spiritual leader admitted his ego was stung by the demotion. But Sapp and bitterness have never been bedfellows, and his indomitable spirit won’t allow him to write off his senior season before the conclusion of next week’s Big East tournament.
“Honestly, anything can happen,” said Sapp, referring to Syracuse’s run to the conference tournament title in 2006. “I look at the performance [Syracuse’s] Gerry McNamara put on at the Garden that year. In fact, I watched that tape just the other day. That could be us.
“I think we’re a pretty good team, and you can never count guys out.”
By Elaine Donnelly
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