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Hoyas’ Greg Whittington adjusts to his defensive role

- - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

At first glance, Greg Whittington appears to be composed of all arms and legs, his "Plastic Man"-esque limbs extending from his gangly 6-foot-8 frame in perpetuity.

That length, which has been uncoiled on unsuspecting opponents in increasing fashion as Georgetown navigates its way through the rugged Big East schedule, has made the freshman forward another valuable young weapon in the Hoyas' versatile arsenal.

Whittington's presence on the offensive glass and as an on-ball defender have led to speculation that this precocious player who arrived late on the scene to Georgetown's recruiting class could wind up becoming one of the best defensive players in school history.

"I think he has a chance to be," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "That's saying a lot. Obviously, Mike Riley and Gene Smith pop into my head, and Greg is very different from both of them when you start talking about defenders.

"A lot of things about basketball he's just learning and being exposed to, but with time, he has the skill set, the understanding and the caring to accomplish that."

Whittington has played in all 19 games for the No. 9 Hoyas (16-3, 6-2 Big East), but in the past three has truly made his presence felt, including an eight-rebound effort in a win against St. John's and collecting 12 offensive boards over that stretch.

"My approach is just to go aggressive and attack the glass as hard as I can," said the Columbia, Md., product. "I'm trying to get every rebound and use my length."

He has a friendly rebound rival in fellow freshman Otto Porter, as they have combined for 58 offensive boards. Whittington feels he and Porter have similar skill sets, with one difference.

"Otto is everywhere," Whittington said with a laugh. "Other than that, we're the same player. We do the same things to the best of our ability, as you can see."

Whittington's length also causes havoc for passers and shooters, as he has the size to get into passing lanes to deflect balls and come from out of nowhere to defend shots, much like he did in the final seconds last Saturday against Rutgers, when his defense forced a desperation attempt that allowed Georgetown to gain the ball for the final possession of the game.

"I like disrupting guys because it's hard to see over my length," Whittington said. "It messes everybody up."

And while Whittington came to Georgetown with the reputation as an offensive threat, he has been relatively quiet on that front, averaging just 3.2 points on 34 percent shooting. But his seven-point spurt in the tense 52-50 win over the Scarlet Knights showed he can make a difference on the offensive end, despite struggling at times.

"Honestly, I think it's just jitters," Thompson III said of Whittington's sometimes-erratic shot. "It's early. He's still trying to figure it out. I'm very comfortable when he takes a shot. He's going to be a big-time scorer before he leaves here."

Whittington arrived at Georgetown as a late bloomer from Oakland Mills High School, where he averaged 24.5 points during his senior season. After drawing attention from Clemson, DePaul and Maryland, the lure of playing close to home made him the fourth commitment to the Hoyas' talented freshman class.

And now, having been thrown into the fire of Big East play, Whittington has earned respect for his hustle and selflessness in shifting from star to role player.

"He brings it every single day at practice," guard Jason Clark said. "He's a great, great defender and a great rebounder. He knows the game well."

That versatility and energy is what Thompson III hopes to nurture over his career, making Whittington into more than just arms and legs.

"Greg is extremely talented, and I think as time goes on, you're going to slowly see everything he can do," Thompson III said. "He's one of those players that I think can be very good at every part of the game at both ends of the floor.

"But he's a freshman. And we're still in the first half of his freshman year. So it is a progression. I anticipate him being very good at all aspects of the game very soon."