- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

The first time Georgetown faced St. John’s this season, reserves D.J. Owens and Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw keyed a 79-65 victory at Madison Square Garden.

Owens drilled six of eight 3-pointers en route to a season-high 24 points. And Kilkenny-Diaw, a bruising 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior walk-on, earned a season-high 16 minutes of playing time while holding the Red Storm’s Aaron Spears scoreless over the game’s final 14 minutes.

Though No. 15 Georgetown (16-4, 7-2 Big East) has taken several mammoth strides forward in the eight games since, dropping a pair of top-10 teams and stringing together six straight wins, the squad’s bench hasn’t come close to matching that performance. And as the Hoyas enter the season’s stretch run with tonight’s rematch against the struggling Red Storm (10-10, 3-6), a thin and inexperienced bench looks to be the team’s primary weakness.

It’s a bit misleading to tab Owens a reserve. The fifth-year senior, in fact, logs considerably more playing time than starting center Roy Hibbert.

The problem is that after the Hoyas’ first six, there is a precipitous decline in skill, experience and production when coach John Thompson III digs deeper into his bench. Consider the fact that six Georgetown players account for 91 percent of the team’s scoring, 84.5 percent of its attributable rebounds and 91 percent of its assists.

That’s cause for some concern as the Hoyas march toward the postseason, in which late-season fatigue and quick turnarounds accentuate depth. And that means at least to some extent, the Hoyas’ postseason potential will depend upon freshmen Jessie Sapp and Marc Egerson, the final two players in Thompson’s primary eight-man rotation.

“It takes time to learn this offense, so I think it helps having some time without a lot of pressure to watch how the older guys run this offense and handle themselves,” said Egerson, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound swingman from Wilmington, Del. “But our time is coming, and we have to be ready for it.”

Egerson was back-to-back state player of the year at Glasgow High School before spending a year improving his SAT score at Berean Institute in Philadelphia and scoring a game-high 21 points for the U.S. All Stars in last year’s Capital Classic at Patriot Center.

But like most freshmen, Egerson has struggled somewhat in the burly Big East. Averaging just under eight minutes in 16 appearances, Egerson has looked solid on the defensive end but overmatched on offense. Next season’s frontcourt glut of the 7-2 Hibbert, 6-10 Vernon Macklin, 6-9 Jeff Green, 6-8 Patrick Ewing Jr. and 6-8 DaJuan Summers leaves Egerson’s future on the Hilltop contingent on his perimeter skills.

“I’m working on everything, but there is more focus on my dribbling and shooting,” said Egerson, who has demonstrated a serviceable long-range stroke in making four of his 10 3-point attempts. “Coach Thompson doesn’t label players in the [conventional] way, but I know I’m going to have to be more of a guard.”

Unlike Egerson, Sapp hasn’t been forced to learn a new position at Georgetown. But as a consensus top-100 recruit, the 6-3 guard from Harlem has had to throttle back the flashy offensive skills that allowed him to average 24.3 points and 6.0 assists a game as a senior last season at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington.

Sapp has logged the most playing time (15.3 minutes a game) and has shown more glimpses of his potential than any of the team’s four freshmen. In a Jan. 28 rout of Cincinnati he scored seven points on just five shots while adding four rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes.

And like Egerson, Sapp has demonstrated the kind of skills and willingness to learn that Thompson demands.

Some of his toughness, no doubt, stems from his days playing pickup ball in the Woodrow Wilson Housing project where he fought to grow up and get out.

“I can’t really say what my future would be if I stayed,” Sapp told the New York Daily News in 2004 of his decision to transfer from Manhattan Center to NCA. “I had to let a lot of friends go. They were doing things that I didn’t want to do. Some kids smoke up. Some kids fight. Instead of being around that, I had to let out the better side of me.”

That positive side of Sapp is clear when he talks about the future.

“My goal individually is to be a better player today than I was yesterday because it’s such a long road, man, and Coach is always stressing today, short-term, work hard and improve each and every day,” Sapp said last week. “If we all commit to that, things will hopefully work out for us.”

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