- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

Roy Hibbert is the erstwhile project who has an opportunity to move up in class with a strong showing against the wunderkind known as Greg Oden.

This matchup of centers is a joy because of its rarity. Oden has been the subject of fawning since his high school days. Hibbert just now is playing his way into the national basketball conscious.

To the question of what he knows of the celebrated one, Hibbert says, “I’ve heard of him.”

This is offered with a wide grin and a string of superlatives.

“He’s a great player,” Hibbert says. “I can’t wait to play against him. It’s going to be a fun game. He’s done so much for his team in a short period of time.”

Hibbert has considerable work ahead before he is accorded a fraction of the reverence extended to Oden. Hibbert was not even the leading center in the Big East going into the season. That distinction went to Aaron Gray of Pittsburgh.

Hibbert makes it clear not to confuse the plodding Gray with the quick-on-his-feet Oden.

“He’s so much more athletic than Gray,” Hibbert says.

Hibbert has evolved mostly because of grit and perseverance. His contributions are based on having a command of fundamentals than raw ability. He has come as far in his development as the Georgetown basketball program, from afterthought to the Final Four.

Hibbert is a 7-foot-2 mountain of a young man who embraces the tradition of Georgetown big men. He is not in the mold of Patrick Ewing or Alonzo Mourning or Dikembe Mutombo — each more athletic than him — but he has added polish and strength to his previously rudimentary state.

Oden will not be the best center he ever has challenged. That would be Mourning, who comes around the campus for offseason workouts in the summer.

“There is no moving him in the low post,” Hibbert says. “He’s just a solid, strong guy. You try to back him in, and there is no budging him.”

As intriguing as the matchup is, it will be subject to the whims of the three referees. Both Georgetown and Ohio State are accustomed to playing without their centers because of foul problems. Both teams are so much more than the two centers.

That is a refrain being sounded by Hoyas coach John Thompson III.

“Obviously, there is a lot of interest in those two, and that is understandable,” he says. “But Ohio State has very good players around Greg. They are a balanced team. You don’t get to this point in the season and not have players who can be called on to provide a lift. I think both teams have learned to play long strong stretches without their big men. But again, I understand the interest in those two.”

Hibbert sometimes struggles against quicker players, which is one of Oden’s attributes.

The size advantage goes to Hibbert, the athleticism to the 7-0 Oden.

That will be the test before Hibbert and the focus of the NBA personnel gurus in attendance.

Oden already has been deemed the NBA’s No. 1 overall draft selection whenever he elects to leave Ohio State.

Hibbert remains a question mark of sorts — a first-round pick to be sure but possibly no more than a career role player in the NBA.

That perhaps understates the prospect of further development, if his three seasons at Georgetown are a guide.

“He has grown, and he has developed as a player,” Thompson says. “His work ethic, his understanding of the game and his commitment have all been there. Roy always has embraced any and all things that have been asked of him.”

Hibbert has made no indication of wanting to leave Georgetown after this season.

Yet the lure of the NBA could grow stronger if he acquits himself well against Oden.

Hibbert, unlike Oden, is still in the process of selling himself to those who could make him a wealthy man.

That is the subplot to this delightful matchup of centers.

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