- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Georgetown’s Jeff Green is in the midst of a sophomore semi-slump.

With the emergence of center Roy Hibbert, Green has been forced to step away from the post this season. And as a result, the 6-foot-9 forward from Hyattsville has seen his production take a step backward.

“In no way, shape or form is Jeff playing poorly this season,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, who has been asked repeatedly to comment on the statistical decline of last season’s co-Big East rookie of the year. “I’m not a stats guys, so what I’m concerned about is his overall development as a player, and his overall skills are improving. To people who just look at numbers and think he averaged X as a freshman, so he should average X-plus-six as a sophomore, I guess it’s a slump or a story.”

Nobody question’s Green’s abilities or import to the Hoyas (10-2, 2-0 Big East), but as Georgetown faces No. 16 West Virginia (10-3, 2-0) tonight in Morgantown for the early lead in the Big East, Green’s halting evolution is perhaps the only disappointment for a team whose parts almost categorically have progressed as or better than expected over the first portion of the season.

Hibbert, a 7-2 sophomore who leads the team in scoring (12.6 points) and rebounding (6.3), certainly rates as the pleasant surprise to date. Senior staples Brandon Bowman (11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds), Ashanti Cook (9.8 points) and D.J. Owens (9.5) all have performed as expected, with all three amping up their output of late to coincide with the start of league play.

Sophomore point man Jonathan Wallace — though regularly overmatched athletically — continues to provide the kind of heady leadership that earned him a scholarship after last season. He boasts the team’s best 3-point percentage (.500) and a quality assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1) and has shown glimpses of the kind of dribble-drive skills few thought he possessed.

Freshmen Jessie Sapp and Marc Egerson have joined bruising senior walk-on Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw and scrappy sophomore Tyler Crawford to give Thompson a deep and versatile bench.

And then there’s Green, the player some pundits thought might push for all-conference honors and finish the season facing an NBA Draft decision.

Instead, last season’s first option, leading rebounder (6.6) and second-leading scorer (13.1 points) stands fifth on the team in scoring (9.3) and seems far less assertive than the braided berserker who tormented opponents as a freshman while carrying the Hoyas throughout much of the season.

The statistical slide is easily explained. With Hibbert tethered to the lane and averaging eight more minutes a game this season, Green has been forced to pull his game farther out on the floor. As a result, his shooting percentages have predictably dipped. And to his credit, the selfless Green hasn’t attempted to compensate for that decline by taking more shots.

“Let’s face it, Jeff probably played most of last year at center,” Thompson said. “He got more looks, better looks and got to the line more. This year, we knew he’d be more of a face-up player because we could see Roy coming on at center. He spent the bulk of the offseason working on his perimeter skills. He’s making that transition, which is going to help him both here and at the next level. But that transition takes time.

“Is Jeff as good as he’s going to be once he gets completely comfortable away from the basket? No, not even close. But if his numbers are lower, he’s a better player this year. He’s in the process of becoming a much more complete player.”

To that end, Green leads the team in assists (3.4) this season and is committing fewer turnovers. He’s the last guy who would bark about his numbers. He commented just last month that he actually preferred bearing less of the team’s scoring onus.

In actuality, the only real negative concerning his transition could be its impact on his confidence. Last season, Green was the team’s unquestioned go-to guy when it needed a late bucket. In most games, he would establish his rhythm inside early, pull his game farther and farther from the rim and be completely in the flow by crunch time.

Without a few early touches in the paint this season, that flow often has eluded him. And instead of forcing the issue, he has deferred to teammates, yielding single-digit scoring efforts in half of the team’s games. That leaves some question whether he will be able to flourish late after fewer touches when the Hoyas needs him most as they segue into the most difficult stretch of their schedule to date (at West Virginia, at Connecticut, vs. South Florida, vs. Duke).

Green did take over when the Georgetown offense was reeling at Illinois, scoring 20 second-half points in a 58-48 loss to the Illini, single-handedly keeping the game competitive. But deference isn’t usually the commodity most coveted in a team’s best player.

“His unselfishness is one of the things that makes him so special,” Thompson said. “He’ll continue to learn when and how to assert himself as his confidence grows out there. Trust me when I say that the only people who need to worry about Jeff Green are our opponents.”

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