- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

When Georgetown faces Florida in the Sweet 16 tomorrow night in Minneapolis, all eyes will be focused on the low-block battle between sophomore centers Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah, perhaps the two hottest names in the college game.

Georgetown’s Hibbert was the runaway best player in the Dayton sub regional, averaging 18.5 points and 11.5 rebounds as the Hoyas dispatched Northern Iowa and obliterated No. 2 seed Ohio State 70-52 in their home state.

And Noah was equally impressive in Jacksonville, carrying the third-seeded Gators (29-6) to walkover victories against South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee by averaging 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 4.5 blocks.

“That’s going to be a clash of the titans,” Georgetown swingman Darrel Owens said with a chuckle. “That’s a couple of seriously big bodies banging down in there.”

At 7-foot-2, 283 pounds, Hibbert has three inches and more than 50 pounds on Noah. But the “NeGator,” as he was dubbed for his shot blocking prowess, is considerably quicker than Hibbert, no doubt drawing on the athletic bloodlines of his famous father, former tennis star and French Open champion Yannick Noah.

And Noah, already known as one of the nation’s most animated players, will have a little extra spring in his size 19s for Georgetown (23-9) tomorrow.

You see, Noah lived for the blue and gray as a kid, idolizing Patrick Ewing and attending John Thompson Jr.’s annual summer hoops camps at McDonough for seven years. But in spite of that connection and Noah’s hopes to play on the Hilltop, former Georgetown coach Craig Esherick’s staff paid him no attention until he jumped on everybody’s radar with a big performance at the ABCD camp in the summer of 2003. By then it was too late.

“Georgetown was always my dream school, and they never recruited me,” Noah said Monday. “I felt disrespected because I remember taking my time and even asking them to come and recruit me. We had a past relationship, and they still didn’t come and even give me a chance. I thought that was kind of messed up, but hey, what goes around comes around, and I can’t wait to play them on Friday.”

Current Georgetown coach John Thompson III, who tried to recruit the Florida star to Princeton while Noah was at nearby Lawrenceville (N.J.) Prep, has nothing but respect for Noah.

“I’ve known Joakim for a long time. He started coming to Georgetown basketball camp when he was like this high,” said Thompson, indicating his waist. “You’ll have to ask him why he didn’t end up at Georgetown because I was at Princeton [when that decision was made]. We recruited him there.

“He’s become a terrific player. With the exception of this week, it’s fun to watch that kid play basketball — with all that energy and enthusiasm. He’s one of the best players in the country right now.”

NBA scouts agree, tabbing Noah as a lottery lock this year and possibly a top-five pick. Nobody in the nation has a better combination of size, athleticism and post moves than Noah, who shoots 64.1 percent from the floor. Perhaps the only downside to Noah is that like his father, he has a chatty, flamboyant side.

“My temperament does sometimes get me in trouble, but that’s who I am,” said Noah, who went on to explain that he hopes Georgetown’s failure to recruit him “bites them in the butt.”

Hibbert listened to Noah’s tale and chatter with a wry smile before responding:

“Yeah, I heard his comments. We’re just going to play the game. It does elevate my intensity to hear guys talking, but you’ve got to keep a level head. We do things differently. We do things the Georgetown way, so I’m not going to get into a war of words. It’s fine if he wants to say stuff. We’re totally focused on actions and trying to control the game with our offense. That said, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t looking forward to the matchup.”

That makes him, Noah, Minneapolis and a good chunk of the college basketball world.

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