- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

A season ago, Georgetown entered the second week of January 14-0, ranked in the top 10 and well on its way to an NCAA tournament berth.
Today many of those same Hoyas will stagger to Boston College with a 9-5 record and trying to halt a four-game skid that has left their postseason hopes in jeopardy.
"We've got to grow up," coach Craig Esherick said earlier this week. "We can't forget that it's early January and there's a lot of basketball in front of us. But we also have to play with a certain sense of urgency because we need to get through these growing pains."
The painful part of that maturation began with a 61-55 loss to No.5 Virginia on Dec.20, lengthened in losses against Top 25 teams UCLA (98-91) and Miami (79-71) and festered into an official slump last Saturday at Rutgers when the Hoyas blew an 18-point lead in an overtime loss to the lowly Scarlet Knights.
As usual, everybody has a ready explanation for the slide. Ask Esherick and he'll tell you the primary difference between this season's halting start and last season's run to midseason perfection is senior leadership. The Hoyas were pretty well run off the court by Georgia (73-59 on Nov.19) and UCLA, but the other three losses resulted from miserable finishing stretches a trademark of many young teams.
"I think the major difference is probably the number of seniors on the team last year and the comfort level you have when you have four seniors and a junior on the team, as opposed to now when you're playing so many people who are younger with just Kevin [Braswell] as a senior," Esherick said. "With seniors, end-of-game situations almost are intuitive.
"Sometimes freshmen have to go through losing the way we did against Rutgers to learn the importance of grabbing every rebound strong or learn the importance of running the baseline when you're inbounding the ball or learn the importance of following through on every shot or learn the importance of stepping into the passing lane or learn the importance of not crossing over in front of somebody or learn the importance of who you can throw certain kinds of passes to in certain situations."
Consult the numbers and two statistics jump out as possible culprits. On paper, this team is virtually identical to last season's. The one notable exception is rebounding. Last season's team finished second in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-13.4). The current Hoyas are a pedestrian plus-4.1 in the category after absorbing poundings on the glass from Georgia (49-36) and Virginia (44-29).
If that discrepancy on the boards doesn't seem particularly meaningful, consider that last season's better rebounding basically afforded the team nine more possessions a game than this season's squad.
"Rebounding has been a major issue," Esherick said. "To some extent, I think rebounding and maturity go hand-in-hand. Take last year's team. Aside from Lee [Scruggs], you had three seniors on that team who had been through our full strength and conditioning program all the way through their careers. Anthony [Perry] was very strong. Nate [Burton] was extremely strong. And Ruben [Boumtje Boumtje] was a hell of a rebounder.
"Part of rebounding is instinctive you bring it with you like shooting touch. Part of it is technique, and we've spent so much time in practice working on boxing out that it makes me sick. But part of it is strength, and we aren't nearly as strong as a team this year, primarily because we're so much younger."
The second major statistical issue involves the midseason vanishing act of junior center Wesley Wilson. The 6-foot-11, 240-pounder averaged 16.2 points and 7.6 rebounds in Georgetown's first 10 games. But during the four-game funk, Wilson's averages have plummeted to four points and two rebounds. His poor footwork on defense has landed him in constant foul trouble. And his lethargic play on both ends of the court has cost him playing time and earned him criticism from frustrated teammates.
"Whatever is going on, I think that he'll be fine," Esherick said. "I've told him that he's my starting center and that things like this happen in terms of slumps. He's got to work through it without acting like it's a life-and-death issue. At this point, I'm more worried that he'll lose confidence in himself than I am with his skills. I know that Wesley can play, and he just has to believe that and keep working."
Ask a fan what's wrong with the Hoyas and you're likely to get a slew of other, more personalized, responses. Wilson is a bum. Braswell is out of control. Power forward Mike Sweetney needs to drop 25 pounds. Victor Samnick's ghastly jump shot is the first sign of the Apocalypse. Top recruit Harvey Thomas is a foul-happy maniac on a mission to set a freshman record for charges a second. And most prevalent among fans is some version of the following assessment of Esherick: He's a nice guy who has no clue as a game coach.
"That's a hazard of the business. You have to do the best job you can and just ignore it," Esherick said with a laugh. "I don't go on the Internet."
But he does have to go to Chestnut Hill, Mass., today to face the 16th-ranked Eagles (13-2, 2-1 Big East) and one of the nation's premier guards in Troy Bell (24.0 points).
That means neither Esherick nor his Hoyas can waste time reflecting on the anatomy of a slump. All they can do is put the past aside and come to the court with the energy and passion upon which predecessor John Thompson built the program.
"These guys have proven to me that they have the competitiveness to be really good because we have not folded in any game," Esherick said. "But I'd like to see a little more of a blue-collar attitude and some growth in smarts and execution. I know we can get there because I see a lot of good signs that this team is ready to grow up."

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