- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

Georgetown’s surprisingly strong men’s basketball start is directly attributable to the instant impact of two old-school youngsters.

At first, there would seem few similarities between standout freshmen Hoyas Jonathan Wallace and Jeff Green.

Wallace is a 6-foot-1 walk-on who grew up on a cattle farm in Harvest, Ala., population 3,054.

“I’d never ridden in a taxi before I came to Georgetown, much less on something like Metro,” admits Wallace, who stepped out of rural Alabama and instantly into the metropolitan spotlight as starting point guard for the Hoyas (10-4, 2-1 Big East). “Everything about my first few months here, from school to basketball to the city, has been an experience well beyond what I expected.”

Green is a 6-8 blue-chipper from the Beltway area who made a late charge in the recruiting rankings last season while leading Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School to the Maryland 4A championship. From his braids to his NBA-style inside-outside game, everything about the Hoyas’ starting power forward screams big city.

With an assist from Georgetown coach John Thompson III, fate brought the two together as roommates on the Hilltop. An odd couple, indeed … until you see them together on the court. They share the two attributes crucial to Thompson’s complex system: a startlingly advanced combination of basketball acumen and work ethic.

“There’s no doubt they both have very high basketball IQs,” says Thompson, whose Hoyas face Villanova (9-2, 2-1) today at the Pavilion. “Looking at the situation at the start of the season, anybody could see we were going to need contributions right away from this freshman class.

“Jonathan and Jeff are both gym rats who came in from Day 1 ready to work and learn. We put a lot of demands on them, and they responded by absorbing everything we threw at them. Now of course, they’re going to have their ups and downs — that’s basketball, that’s youth. But there’s no longer any need for us to think of them as freshmen.”

Green is second on the team (behind junior forward Brandon Bowman) in scoring (13.3 points) and rebounding (7.2), leading all Big East freshmen in these categories. Only four players in the conference have recorded more double-doubles this season than Green’s four. And in consecutive games last week against his principal rivals in the Big East’s Rookie of the Year race, Green dwarfed the performances of prized Connecticut freshman and Baltimore product Rudy Gay and Rutgers forward Ollie Bailey.

While Gay and Bailey combined for just seven points and 10 rebounds against the Hoyas, Green totaled 38 points (on just 22 field goal attempts), 16 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in the loss to the Huskies (66-59) and the victory over the Scarlet Knights (62-55).

“He’s a beast,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun after watching Green shred the nation’s most daunting frontcourt en route to a career-high 22 points. “He’s going to be a major factor in this league.”

Wallace’s impact has been more subtle. Averaging 8.3 points and 2.6 assists, the guard can’t match Green’s stat-stuffing splendor. But the stability and consistency he’s brought to the backcourt have made him arguably just as valuable.

Though Wallace leads the Hoyas in 3-point shooting (44.8 percent), he is also the team’s only true pass-first point man. In Thompson’s complex motion offense that demands patience, Wallace is a tight fit, a fundamentally flawless court corporal. And if you factor in grit, look behind the stats and consult the sweatmeter, Wallace might be the team’s MVP.

Tuesday night’s victory over Rutgers provided a perfect example. At a glance, his final line (11 points, three assists) seems fairly unremarkable. But he also didn’t commit a turnover in 32 minutes. Anyone who happened to be at the game also knows it was Wallace’s aggressive defense on Rutgers gunner Quincy Douby and his handful of lull-snapping layups that helped turn the game in Georgetown’s favor.

“Not only is Jon extremely competitive, he just has a special feel for the game,” says Thompson, who recruited Wallace to Princeton and then convinced the guard to follow him to Georgetown. “You look at him and at first you wish there was a little more of this and a little less of that. But every time I saw him in high school, he made plays, and he made plays at key times.”

Roy Williams saw the same thing, and Wallace was destined for Kansas before Williams left the Jayhawks for North Carolina, where he inherited a pretty decent point man named Raymond Felton. But even after Williams quit calling, Wallace never doubted his abilities.

“I learned the value of hard work from my father and grandfather,” he says. “If I wasn’t playing ball or studying, I was working on the farm, come rain, sleet, snow or whatever. That will teach you moral values. That will teach you toughness, qualities that translate to athletics. Experiences on the farm, just like things I learned playing quarterback [at Sparkman High], complemented my basketball game. Maybe the most important lesson I learned was that hard work can make up for a lot of deficiencies.”

Does that sound like a freshman? Wallace didn’t get into Princeton just because he has what teammate Ashanti Cook describes as a “lovely jump shot.”

If Thompson deserves a mountain of credit for plucking Wallace from the confusing rabble of lesser-ranked recruits, he simply hit the lottery with Green. Whatever one’s opinion of former Georgetown coach Craig Esherick, there’s no denying he gifted successor Thompson with the template triggerman for his offense.

“I hesitate to call anyone a perfect fit, because I don’t want to put that on anyone, but you certainly need a very skilled post player to run our offense, and Jeff is certainly that,” says Thompson. “He can play low post, high post, wing, you name it. The only thing we haven’t asked him to do is bring the ball up the court, and he could probably do that with a little practice.”

In the recent annals of Pivot U., only Othella Harrington (16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds) and Alonzo Mourning (13.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 blocks) can claim to have made more of an impact as freshmen than Green. Patrick Ewing (12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 blocks) was certainly more of a defensive presence in 1981-82. And Mike Sweetney (12.8 points, 7.4 rebounds) featured a more polished post-up game in 2000-01. But perhaps no big man in Georgetown history has featured Green’s array of skills.

Green is the hoops version of baseball’s five-tool player. He can score with his back to the basket like a traditional post player or burn you from the perimeter. His 3-point shooting, though still modest (10 of 30), hints at T-Mac potential. He can rebound and block shots (2.1 a game). He can run the floor, put it on the floor and finish like a transition dunkosaur. Most importantly in Thompson’s high-post-centric system, Green can pass. He leads the team in assists (2.9), improving with each game.

And yet, like Wallace, Green’s most valuable asset might be his attitude.

“None of this is about me, it’s about working and improving as a team,” he says. “I’ve heard some talk about Big East rookie of the year. That means nothing to me, absolutely nothing. Rudy [Gay] can have it.”

So what does Green want, aside from team success.

“Allen Iverson is my favorite player, because I love how hard he goes and how tough he is,” says Green, who admits his braids are in part a tribute to the former Hoya. “I’d like people to say I left it all out there.”

But just because he admires Iverson’s game and wears cornrows, don’t think Green is destined for rebel star status. His favorite book is “Pride and Prejudice.” And you won’t see a tattoo on him, now or ever.

“No, I can’t do that to my body,” says Green. “I guess I’m kind of old-fashioned. I like the old ways, you know, old values.”

If you think these blue-collar buddies sound too good to be true, too mature, too polished, just wait until you see them play … next week … next month … next season.

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