- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

Georgetown’s Vernon Macklin is finally starting to live up to his nickname.

The scene at St. John’s on Wednesday night was just as Macklin had envisioned when the 6-foot-9, 230-pound McDonald’s All-American signed with Georgetown two years ago.

The No. 6 Hoyas (17-2, 7-1 Big East) dominated the Red Storm on both ends of the floor, handing St. John’s its worst-ever league loss 74-42. And in the middle of it all was the spidery sophomore from Portsmouth, Va., leading all scorers at Madison Square Garden with an 18-point performance on 10 field goal attempts.

Georgetown’s “Big Ticket” did indeed put on a show at the world’s most famous arena, surrounding a savage slam with a fall-away baby jumper, a lane-crossing layup and an ambidextrous assault of hook shots.

For 25 minutes Wednesday night, Macklin looked a consensus top-10 player from the high school class of 2006, the ninth-grade phenom who prompted recruiting analyst Clark Francis to gush:

“He’s got superstar written all over him. We’re talking Alonzo Mourning, Ronald Curry and Allen Iverson good.”

In reality, there have been significant growing pains between that rather lofty prediction and Macklin’s breakout performance at the Garden. But if recent indications are any harbinger of things to come for Macklin, perhaps the ultimate destination, if not the time frame, will be the same for Georgetown’s reserve center.

“[Macklin] has developed and is still developing,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose Hoyas play host to resurgent Seton Hall (15-6, 5-3) today at Verizon Center. “Obviously, playing behind [senior All-American Roy Hibbert], he doesn’t get the opportunities to show it as often as he would like. His opportunities have been limited. But he has worked extremely hard. He still has a long way to go, but I think he will get there.”

When Macklin transferred from I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, Va., to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., between his junior and senior seasons, there seemed little doubt that the highest rated recruit from the south Hampton Roads area since Alonzo Mourning (Indian River High School, 1988) would “get there.”

The only variable seemed to be when Macklin would jump to the NBA. And the league might very well have saved his career when it decided to make his high school class the first without immediate draft options.

“Honestly, I didn’t even have a list of [potential] schools when the NBA changed its policy,” Macklin told The Washington Times shortly after committing to Georgetown in the fall of 2005. “That kind of tells you what I was thinking.”

Even after Macklin arrived on the Hilltop last fall, some observers thought he might be a one-and-done player. But Macklin found himself stuck behind a logjam of Georgetown frontcourt talent that included Hibbert, last season’s Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green, junior transfer Patrick Ewing Jr. and fellow blue-chip recruit DaJuan Summers.

Given the combination of that talent and the Hoyas’ halfcourt style, which conflicted with the transition game to which he was accustomed, Macklin struggled both on and off the floor as a freshman, earning little meaningful playing time and learning to swallow his pride and regret his nickname, which his eighth-grade coach gave to him.

“At first it was kind of hard for me. But now I understand. I’m older. I’m more mature,” Macklin said. “Playing behind Jeff Green and Roy was good also because I got to watch those guys and learn a lot from them. I’m still learning. I’m just watching Roy and also Pat. I’m just waiting for my turn. I’m just going to keep on working hard until my turn.”

That turn could be coming quickly for Macklin, who seems to have turned a corner since the start of Big East play. Starting with a 10-point performance at Pittsburgh and concluding with Wednesday’s career performance, Macklin ranks second on the team to Hibbert in points a minute (.479) over the last five games while connecting on 16 of his 19 field goal attempts.

He still needs to make substantial improvement on his rebounding and free throw shooting (21.9 percent), but the latter is entirely psychological according to nearly every player on the team.

“It’s mental. In practice, I don’t miss free throws,” Macklin said. “Then I get to the line [in games], and I just think too much. I just don’t want to miss. … I’ve got to clear my mind when I go up there.”

Offensively, however, Hibbert promises that fans and outsiders have seen only the Big Ticket’s opening act.

“He’s always been able to get up and down the court, but now he’s starting to develop some real nice moves,” Hibbert said. “Once he gains a comfort level and polishes those moves, watch out because there aren’t many guys with his size who also have his quickness.

“I think it’s primarily a confidence issue because we’ve seen the Vernon everybody saw at St. John’s for some time now in practice.”

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