- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Four days into its preseason practice schedule, the Georgetown men's basketball program still has heard nothing from the NCAA Clearinghouse on the status of top recruit Harvey Thomas.

"Here's the only thing I'm going to say about academics, and that's it: Darrel Owens is not going to be playing this year at all," said coach Craig Esherick, pre-empting any questions about Thomas' eligibility with another unfortunate revelation. "If I have anything else to say, I will say it at the appropriate time."

Owens, an unheralded freshman swingman from Napoleanville, La., has apparently been ruled ineligible by the clearinghouse. But most Georgetown fans are far more concerned about whether Thomas will be suited up for the Hoyas' season opener against Marymount on Nov. 18.

A 6-foot-8, 205-pound small forward from Frederick, Md., Thomas is ranked among the top 20 incoming freshmen in the nation and is expected to contribute immediately if he's cleared to play. News from the backed-up clearinghouse could come any day. In the interim, Thomas is allowed to practice and play with the team.

With or without their prized recruit, however, the Hoyas are expected to make a strong repeat run at last season's 25-8 mark, which ended in a 76-66 loss to Maryland in the Sweet 16.

"Coach Esherick still brings that game up every day in practice," said sophomore power forward Mike Sweetney, remembering how the Terps bruised the Hoyas inside in Anaheim, turning a five-point deficit just before halftime into a relatively easy victory thanks to the post play of Lonny Baxter (26 points, 14 rebounds). "It really bothers me a lot. And I want to prove to coach that this year is a different year."

The year might be different, but the stars are the same. Sweetney (12.8 points, 7.4 rebounds), who spent the summer touring Japan with the USA Junior World Team, will be asked to build on one of the best freshman seasons in school history and carry the load inside. While senior point guard Kevin Braswell, who looks to have added 15 pounds of muscle over the summer, returns as the team's emotional leader and playmaker (11.5 points, 6.1 assists).

"I'm so excited for this season that I can't even wait," said Braswell, who spent the entire summer working out at Georgetown with teammates Gerald Riley and Wesley Wilson, and a stream of NBA players including Michael Jordan, Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, Steve Francis, Jerome Williams and Jahidi White. "Last year, I just wanted to make it to the tournament. Once we got in the tournament, we did so well and had so much fun that I just want to make it back and go even further this year."

Despite the departure of starting center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje (graduation) and starting shooting guard Demetrius Hunter (transferred to UNLV), the Hoyas are the preseason favorites to win the Big East West division this season.

Some of that optimism can be traced to the return of Braswell, swingman Riley and junior center Wesley Wilson. Some is due to a recruiting class that features both the electric Thomas and the solid ball-handling and quickness of backcourt mates Drew Hall and Tony Bethel. Some is due to the efforts of Esherick and his staff, who have resurrected the ailing program in their three seasons at the helm.

But perhaps Sweetney is responsible for the bulk of the hype surrounding the young bunch on the Hilltop. Like Ewing, Mourning and Iverson before him, Sweetney has the look of a budding All-American.

"Mike is a point guard and a center, because he will make plays from everywhere," said Braswell of Georgetown's 6-8, 260-pound manchild. "If you give him the ball, he can score at will on anybody. If it's one man he's got to beat, he will beat him. If it's two men, he's going to beat them. Maybe the third man might slow him down a little bit … Mike is everything."

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