Six weeks removed from the conclusion of the most disappointing season of his coaching career, Georgetown’s John Thompson III has shifted his energy to securing the future.
“It was a terribly disappointing season, but it’s over,” Thompson said of the Hoyas’ 16-15 campaign, which ended with losses in 12 of their final 16 games. “You chew on it and chew on it, and I always came back to inexperience. Five of our top nine guys were first-year players, and Chris [Wright] and Austin [Freeman] were sophomores. That’s not an excuse; that’s reality. Maybe you have to go through those growing pains to improve.”
It wouldn’t be spring on the Hilltop without significant roster changes. Gone are senior guard Jessie Sapp and underclassmen DaJuan Summers and Omar Wattad. Despite an underwhelming junior season, Summers has entered the NBA Draft pool and is projected as a second-round pick. Although the 6-foot-8 forward led the Hoyas in scoring (13.6 points), his rebounding and ball-handling regressed last season, and he never evolved into the on-floor leader the young team needed.
Wattad, a reserve sophomore swingman, became the eighth player to transfer out of the program in Thompson’s five seasons.
“We’ve had two kids leave to go to the league, and eight others have transferred for a variety of reasons,” Thompson said. “Sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes it’s playing time. Sometimes it has nothing to do with basketball. That’s just part of the deal.”
Despite those departures and a roster that won’t feature a senior, the Hoyas will be the Big East’s most experienced team next season thanks to a strong nucleus of returning starters and massive personnel losses across most of the conference.
Wright, Freeman and Big East rookie of the year Greg Monroe give Thompson three former McDonald’s All-Americans and returning starters to anchor the squad. Monroe (12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds) was considered an NBA lottery pick, and convincing him to return for his sophomore season arguably ranks as Thompson’s ultimate recruiting coup.
Though the Hoyas still have a shot at landing coveted prep forward Latavious Williams (Humble, Texas), who is set to sign Monday with either Georgetown or Memphis, this season’s incoming class of recruits lacks the high-profile pop of both its predecessors and the anticipated 2010 haul (Nate Lubick and Markel Starks). Consensus top-50 player Hollis Thompson gray-shirted last season and is expected to supplant incumbent Nikita Mescheriakov as the team’s starting small forward, but recent signees Vee Sanford (Lexington, Ky.) and Jerrelle Benimon (Fauquier High School) both qualify as rather unheralded prospects.
“Both of these guys have a chip on their shoulder and arrive with something to prove,” Thompson said. “Jerrelle might have been somewhat overlooked because he played in a league that traditionally isn’t very strong. But he’s a very aggressive kid who is physically ready to help us right now.”
Perhaps the greatest performance leap should be expected from the corps of last season’s first-year players.
“I expect all those guys to make a leap,” Thompson said. “[Freshman center] Henry [Sims] has had a really great spring. I think you’re going to see a significant improvement in his production and a jump in his minutes because he’s really made strides.
“Actually, I think you’ll see that from all of our returning guys. This group is very hungry and anxious for next season to start. I like the way they’ve responded to last season’s disappointment by really going about their business with renewed vigor.”
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