- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Coach Craig Esherick isn't ready to anoint this Georgetown men's team as the best he's ever had. Entering his fifth season, however, Esherick can't help but like the makeup of what could be a special group on the Hilltop.
On paper, the Hoyas have a Sweet 16 quality about them: size, depth, talent, leadership and, most importantly, shooters.
"I feel good about this year's team, I feel good about what we've done in the preseason, but the only way we can answer that is at the end of the season," Esherick said.
Tonight at MCI Center, the Hoyas open their season against Grambling State in the first of seven straight home games.
For whatever reason, Georgetown is flying under everybody's radar this preseason. The Hoyas return four starters who averaged in double figures for last season's 19-11 team. In junior power forward Mike Sweetney, Georgetown has a consensus first-team All-American. Last season the 6-foot-8, 260-pounder was the only player to finish in the Big East's top five in scoring (19.0) and rebounding (10.0).
Wesley Wilson, a 6-11 senior center, averaged 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds and is a physically imposing presence. With Sweetney, Wilson, and senior 6-9 forward Courtland Freeman (4.1 points, 3.9 rebounds), the Hoyas have one of the best frontcourts in college basketball. Including this trio, the Hoyas have nine players 6-6 or taller.
Small forward Gerald Riley, a 6-6 sharpshooter, averaged 10.3 points and shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range last season. Sophomore Tony Bethel, the starting shooting guard, averaged 10.1 points and made 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers.
Those five alone should be enough to put the Hoyas in everybody's Top 25, but that's not the case. Georgetown collected less than a handful of votes at the bottom of the Associated Press poll, and most preseason basketball magazines have the Hoyas rated anywhere from No.42 to No.60. Obviously, having a dominant player like Sweetney doesn't really matter when an opinion or vote is at stake.
"I think we can use it and hope to use it to our advantage," Esherick said the snubs. "There are more advantages than disadvantages of being under everybody's radar screen. That's for sure."
The problem Georgetown has is its image. The Hoyas remain perpetually stereotyped from the John Thompson era as a bunch of defensive-minded players with limited offensive skills. At one time, that was true. But since the arrival of Allen Iverson in the mid-1990s, the school each year has brought in better scorers with finely tuned offensive skills.
Another reason for national skepticism is that the Hoyas need to replace departed point guard Kevin Braswell, a four-year starter who averaged 14.4 points last season.
Drew Hall, Braswell's backup, played 20 minutes a game and shot 38.3 percent (23 of 60) from 3-point range. So the Hoyas return four players who averaged a combined 51.6 points and three players who shoot over 35 percent on 3-pointers. And that's not including two freshmen point guard Ashanti Cook and forward Brandon Bowman who combined for 41 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds. What's not to like?
Esherick's explosive Hoyas haven't forgotten their roots, though. Georgetown will still trap out of its halfcourt 2-3 zone and apply fullcourt man-to-man pressure, but this team has the makings of an offensive juggernaut. Last season the Hoyas averaged 81.1 points and a conference-best 79.2 in Big East play.
With the expanded Big East's divisional alignment, Georgetown doesn't play Connecticut, Boston College or Villanova in crossover games during the regular season three schools that appeared in the postseason. Esherick hopes to have a good idea of his team's capabilities come conference tournament time.
"This time of year, you're always trying to figure out how you want to play, what lineups are going to work in certain situations, and I don't know what I feel right now in relation with a lot of this stuff just because it's so early," Esherick said.


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