The grunt came from the back as a question was posed after Georgetown's season-opening victory against Savannah State. Big John Thompson took umbrage at a reporter's choice of words to describe Monday's game, the last contest before Georgetown heads to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
"Tune-up?" former coach Thompson harrumphed, as the Hoyas' current coach, John Thompson III, smirked in agreement. Guard Jason Clark was standing on the podium, and he gently corrected the reporter: "We have another game."
That's the proper approach, and it's obviously been passed down with care, from Thompson the Elder to JT3 to the Hoyas' senior captain. Still, unless UNC Greensboro unexpectedly offers more resistance than Savannah State provided in an 83-54 rout, Monday's game indeed will be tantamount to a workout. Kansas next week will give us a better indication of where the young Hoyas stand.
Although first impressions aren't always reliable for making long-term prognoses, there were several encouraging signs.
The most unexpected was senior center Henry Sims, who scored a career-high 19 points and tied career-highs with five assists and three blocks. That outburst caught Tigers coach Horace Broadnax off-guard, as Sims entered the season averaging 2.4 points and wasn't part of Savannah State's defensive game plan.
"I guess I went against what I try to tell my kids," said Broadnax, a member of Georgetown's 1984 championship team. "The past doesn't dictate the future. I kind of relied on the past based on what he did and not playing. But he's a senior, and he has to step up."
Sims averaged 14 minutes per game last season and started for the first and only time in his career (against Tulane). He logged 24 minutes Saturday, and Georgetown improved to 2-0 in games when he starts.
"I've been telling him this, sooner or later he's going to buy into it and accept it, do it," Thompson said. "Henry just needs to just make hustle plays. The effort he gave today, going after rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. His points came off effort plays as opposed to worrying about shots."
No one envisioned such productivity out of Sims, who shot 9-of-11 from the floor. While that made him a pleasant surprise, the touted freshmen were just a pleasant outcome. They had no benchmarks to exceed or miss.
But as far as blank canvases go, the first few brush strokes look pretty good.
The first two subs off the bench for Georgetown were Otto Porter and Greg Whittington, a pair of 6-foot-8 freshmen who entered the game simultaneously while Sims and point guard Markel Starks sat. That left Clark on the court with four forwards (including Hollis Thompson and Nate Lubick), giving the Hoyas a long, lanky lineup that will present matchup problems for future opponents.
Porter was the most impressive freshman, stuffing his stat line with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks while displaying the poise of a fifth-year senior. His all-around game and basketball IQ will make him invaluable to the Hoyas' success, much of which rests on the freshman class. Whittington (eight points) and 6-foot-9 forward Mikael Hopkins showed flashes, while 6-foot-9 center Tyler Adams sat out with a sprained ankle.
Forgive Thompson if he drools when contemplating the various combinations at his disposal. Multiple players can play different positions without causing the team to suffer on offense or defense. Losing point guard Chris Wright and his backcourt mate, Austin Freeman, would hurt any program, but the Hoyas arguably are deeper and more versatile than last season.
"I thought they did very, very well, Thompson said of his freshmen's debut. "Greg has to get more rebounds [he had one], but they all do things. They all defend. All can make shots. They give you different things, not about just putting the ball in the basket. I thought both Otto and Greg were very good today."
Another encouraging sign came from junior captain Hollis Thompson, who withdrew from the NBA draft at the last minute, but apparently not before benefiting from pre-draft workouts. The athletic forward remains silky smooth but looks bigger and stronger. He finished with 13 points four rebounds and four assists, including a sweet no-look for a Sims dunk.
Beating Savannah State made Georgetown 51-0 against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponents, so a lot of questions remain. But the team has a number of potential answers to choose from.
Watching the Hoyas figure things out could make for an entertaining season, if not a super successful one.
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