- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

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ATLANTA — The next month might be the most critical in the history of Hoyas hoops.

After the most successful season on the Hilltop in more than two decades, Georgetown turns its focus toward retaining the elements that keyed that run.

The No. 1 priority clearly is coach John Thompson III. All other personnel concerns pale in comparison to locking down the man responsible for the stunning resurrection of the program.

In a three-season arc of improvement, Thompson has taken a losing team that barely made the Big East tournament in 2004 and carried it back to the college game’s ultimate stage. From the NIT (2005) to the Sweet 16 (2006) to the Final Four (2007), Georgetown’s phoenix routine under Thompson has encompassed almost every facet of the program (results, player development, recruiting, scheduling, etc.).

Though the 67-60 loss to Ohio State in Saturday’s national semifinal was something of an anticlimax, Georgetown’s overall 2006-07 campaign was defined by a glittering sequence of successes. After a halting 4-3 start, the Hoyas (30-7) marched to the Final Four with few missed steps, winning 19 of 20 games and sweeping the Big East regular season and tournament crowns for the first time since 1989.

“I’m extremely proud of our group of guys,” Thompson said after the loss. “I’m extremely proud of the year that we had.”

During the run-up to the Ohio State game, Georgetown president Jack DeGioia announced his intentions to sit down with Thompson tomorrow to discuss the coach’s financial future. That the university has not already rewarded Thompson with both a substantial raise and a major extension is somewhat of a surprise. One agent at the Final Four who represents multiple Big East coaches dubbed Thompson “one of the five hottest commodities in the profession at any level.”

Thompson has two years remaining on a deal that pays him $456,000 a season. That salary ranks in the bottom third among his Big East coaching brethren and is a comparative pittance to the salaries of the other three Final Four coaches, each of whom is paid well in excess of $1 million.

Alternative job opportunities for the 41-year-old coach seem to blossom on an almost daily basis, and Thompson certainly has long-term interest in the NBA. Keeping him on the Hilltop for the foreseeable future might be a tall task, but losing him likely would be a far costlier proposition.

Below Thompson on the list of priorities are standout juniors Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. The word around the program for weeks was that Green almost certainly was headed to the NBA, while Hibbert always has maintained he wants to be a four-year player and earn a place on the team’s pivot Rushmore next to Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning.

Their respective play in Saturday’s deflating loss to Ohio State might have slightly altered those expectations. Green, who had spent the previous two months devastating opponents en route to Big East player of the year honors and MVP laurels in both the Big East tournament and NCAA East Region, looked ordinary against the Buckeyes (35-3).

Hibbert, on the other hand, got the better of his much-anticipated matchup with Ohio State center Greg Oden, finishing with 19 points and six rebounds against the player who likely will be selected with the first pick in the upcoming NBA Draft if he leaves school.

After averaging 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in the NCAA tournament, the 7-foot-2 center likely has higher draft stock than the 6-9 Green, though one bad game does little to taint Green’s otherwise extraordinary season.

“We had a great season — regular-season Big East champions, Big East tournament champions, NCAA East Region champions, Final Four,” said Green, who took just five shots and scored just nine points against Ohio State. “It’s hard to end it like this, but we had a great run.”

If the next month progresses as anticipated with Georgetown signing Thompson to a new deal, Green jumping to the NBA and Hibbert returning for his senior season, the Hoyas will be on a short list of next season’s Final Four favorites along with North Carolina.

Hibbert likely would appear on most preseason All-American teams. The standard freshman-to-sophomore season leap is expected for his backup, former McDonald’s All-American Vernon Macklin. The rest of the frontcourt seems solid with the return of starting 6-8 freshman standout DaJuan Summers (9.2 points a game) and sixth man Patrick Ewing. And the underrated backcourt pairing of Jonathan Wallace (11.4) and Jessie Sapp (9.1) should get a significant boost from maturing reserve Jeremiah Rivers and a pair of incoming McDonald’s All-Americans in Austin Freeman and Chris Wright.

If current and incoming players progress at the rate that has become standard under Thompson, Georgetown could be significantly stronger next season, even without the dynamic Green. If Green should happen to change his mind and return on a quest to tend to unfinished business, the college game could be looking at a dominant force.

“To get this far and know that you’re just one step away leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, but it just makes us hungrier,” Wallace said. “It’s time to go back to the gym, put in a hard offseason and get ready to come back with a vengeance next year.”

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