- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Markel Starks is a question mark.

The Georgetown sophomore admits the doubt. Embraces the uncertainty. All but appropriates the question mark as part of his identity.

“Pretty much all the point guards that come here, they have a big question mark,” Starks said. “A lot of people don’t really know what I can do. They don’t know if I’m apt for the position, which is fine. There should be question marks.”

Sure, he played in 30 games last season. But 9.7 minutes per game as a wide-eyed freshman can’t reveal what comprises a point guard.

Now comes Starks‘ test.

Chris Wright is gone. He was Georgetown’s glue. A backcourt institution. The one who filled the stat sheet at point guard. Made coach John Thompson III’s Princeton offense hum. Subtract him, and the Hoyas looked like a car trying to run without gasoline.

That’s what happened after Wright broke a bone in his left hand Feb. 23. He missed three games after surgery - all losses by a combined 41 points — before returning at less than full strength for Georgetown’s 18-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the NCAA tournament’s second round.

Replacing Wright isn’t exactly what the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Starks has planned.

“I’m just taking the torch and running with it,” Starks said. “It’s a new step. A new beginning.”

One of 10 freshmen and sophomores on Georgetown’s roster, Starks is similar to the rest of the youth-filled squad. Talented, after a standout career at Georgetown Prep playing for former Hoyas guard Dwayne Bryant. A relative unknown, after averaging only 1.5 points and handing out 20 assists in spurts of court time last season. Competitive, insisting the old Georgetown toughness is back.

“His attitude has been different,” senior center Henry Sims said. “We haven’t gotten where we want to get. We haven’t gotten to the Sweet 16s and Elite Eights and won the Big East tournament. You never want to leave a place without your name being remembered.”

Starks fights nerves about taking over at point guard. Inspiration comes from Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Starks sees the same quickness. Same height. Same build. Same physical features.

And Rondo’s teammates want to play with him. That matters more to Starks than assists or steals. It’s what he aspires to, perhaps not surprising from someone who hopes to be a congressman.

“Honestly, I want that to be me,” Starks said. “I want the guys to want to play with me, not for me.”

Starks is easy with his smile and bold with his words. He’s vocal (or, more accurately, “very, very vocal,” as emphasized by sophomore forward Nate Lubick). But a freshman’s timidity, at least on the court, can lurk with Starks. Sure, he can pass the ball. Shooting, however, takes encouragement.

Yes, shooting.

Wright was the Hoyas’ second-leading scorer last season, averaging 12.9 points per game. With Vee Sanford’s offseason transfer to Dayton evaporating any backcourt depth, Georgetown needs Starks be able to do a bit of everything. That includes scoring.

“You don’t see many guys yell at someone about shooting the ball,” Clark said. “There have been plenty of times I’ve had to yell at him, ‘Yo, ‘Kel, shoot the ball.’ He’s getting better every single day. I’m starting to see a great point guard.”

Starks wonders if Big East coaches picking the Hoyas to finish 10th in the conference is a slap in the face. We’ll find out, he says. His voice isn’t much different than normal: confident.

Sure, Starks is a question mark. So is the rest of the team. No one knows what the youth will bring, if a question mark can be changed to an exclamation point.

“We’re going to go,” Lubick said, “as he goes.”