- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

These are tumultuous times on the Hilltop.
The Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team has lost six of its last seven games, most in excruciating fashion. And while the squad staggers through the season, fans, students, alumni and even former players have begun wondering about the direction of the program and questioning the signals coming from the school's athletic department.
Red flags of concern went up for many observers when Athletic Director Joe Lang told The Washington Post on Jan. 20 that it was "an unreasonable expectation" for Georgetown to make the NCAA tournament every season.
"When the head of the athletic department comes out and tells a member of the national media that it is unreasonable for us to expect to make the biggest basketball tournament of the season, I find that unacceptable," said Chris Perkins, a 1994 Georgetown graduate and lifelong fan. "Georgetown went to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments at one point under [former coach John] Thompson. That's basically why I went to Georgetown to watch big-time basketball. And I'm very frustrated by the state of the program."
Mr. Perkins is far from alone.
Blue fliers featuring Mr. Lang's quote in bold type were posted around campus several days later. An editorial questioning both Mr. Lang's comment and speculation that the university was in the final stages of negotiating a contract extension that would keep coach Craig Esherick at Georgetown through the 2009 season appeared in the Jan. 30 edition of the campus newspaper, the Georgetown Voice. The piece closed with the following lines:
"Until Esherick shows that he can bring a consistent commitment to success on the court as well as in the classroom, Lang and the administration should not have extended any commitment to him. Until the University can manage great expectations for Esherick and the Hoyas alongside great tradition, the success will remain a pipe dream."
Though Mr. Lang declined repeated interview requests for this article, he has justified Mr. Esherick's performance in the past by pointing out that the coach has averaged 21 victories since his first full season at the helm (1999-2000) and graduated 84 of 86 players.
But a closer look at Georgetown's on-court performance during the Esherick era reveals some rather disheartening statistics:
Mr. Esherick's teams are 37-39 against Big East Conference opponents, have won neither a regular-season division crown, nor a conference tournament title, and have made only one NCAA tournament appearance.
Mr. Esherick's teams are 6-23 against ranked opponents, losing all four of this season's games against Top 25 teams.
Mr. Esherick has landed just one consensus Top 25 recruit (Harvey Thomas) in his tenure on the Hilltop. Thomas left the school last spring after a disappointing freshman season.
The current Hoyas (10-8 overall, 2-6 in the Big East) are off to the second-worst start in the conference in school history. The longtime assistant was also part of the worst Big East season in Georgetown history when he took over for Thompson midway through the 1998-99 season (15-16, 6-11 Big East).
And most disheartening of all for most Georgetown fans, Mr. Esherick's teams are 27-33 in games decided by single digits. The Hoyas seem to have mastered the art of the competitive loss, dropping eight of 10 overtime contests under Mr. Esherick. Over the past two seasons, that overtime record stands at 1-6.
This season alone, Georgetown's propensity for swooning down the stretch has been staggering. The Hoyas blew a 15-point lead against St. John's with five minutes remaining, crumbling under a late-game Red Storm press. They were beaten in overtime at Seton Hall when none of the coaches on the bench noticed that the Pirates had six players on the floor for the final two possessions of regulation.
"When you've got a collective choke in every close game, it's the coach's fault," said Larry Barrett, a 1967 alumnus and longtime member of the Hoya Hoops Club. "That's what we've got here. The lawyer's got one hand around his throat every time we come down to the wire. I live and die with those guys. I love Georgetown basketball. But it's breaking my heart. I can't even watch them now.
"The worst part is that the administration doesn't even seem concerned. They talk about giving Esherick an extension. They talk about unreasonable expectations. It's the imprimatur of mediocrity."
Mr. Barrett's reaction is common among longtime Georgetown supporters who have been as riled by Mr. Lang's remarks and contract talk as they have by the team's poor season.
They worry what recruits will think upon reading Mr. Lang's "unreasonable expectation" quote.
They worry about accountability for coaching.
"You don't have to say you're going to fire the guy, but wouldn't a re-evaluation at least be in order given his results?" asked Mr. Barrett. "I for one will still be chanting, 'No extension, no extension' with my friends at [tomorrows] UCLA game."
Mr. Lang invited the campus media to a press conference Wednesday, at which he intended to clarify his remarks. He told the Georgetown Voice there was a difference between expectations and goals.
"Goals you go after, and you set them," Mr. Lang told the Voice in an article published yesterday. "If you do them and achieve them, a lot of people begin to assume that you will achieve the goal. It's the assumption that makes it an expectation."
That distinction might not mean much to fans and alumni for whom the bottom line is victories. As for the contract talk, at least one former player sees the extension chatter as more of a temporary vote of confidence for Mr. Esherick than any real long-term guarantee of job security.
"I think Esherick knows the reality of his position," said Craig Shelton, one of the landmark recruits of the mid-'70s who helped push the program into the national limelight. "The university can say what they want, but at some point, we all know the guys have to start winning. There's too much money at stake for them to completely let [the program] go."
The basketball program has been the crown jewel of the school's athletic department and the source of much of its national prestige. Given Georgetown's well-documented struggles with its endowment, which has never been commensurate with its national status, maintaining a highly successful basketball program as a fund-raising tool would seem to be a priority.
"I'm not sure that's the case," said one alumnus familiar with the school's fund-raising tribulations. "I don't think [university President John J.] DeGioia sees the basketball program as a priority. The fundamental problem with the school's endowment is, it has a lower level of alumni involvement than similar institutions. In my opinion, it stands to reason that de-emphasizing the basketball program is just going to exacerbate that apathy."
Or perhaps the Georgetown administration has decided fan apathy has already reached a maximum level. Georgetown ranks last in the Big East in percentage of seats filled (34.8 percent) per home game, averaging an attendance of only 7,176 fans at 20,600-seat MCI Center.
And chances are, the arena will be mostly empty once again tomorrow when the Hoyas face UCLA (4-14) in a largely meaningless battle between two has-been basketball goliaths.

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