- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Roy Hibbert‘s detractors have had plenty of fun in recent weeks.

They have criticized his decision to return to Georgetown for his senior year, harping on how the second-team All-American blew an opportunity to be a lottery pick in last year’s draft. They have predicted how team after team will choose younger, more athletic centers, while the two-time All-Big East selection waits for the phone to ring Thursday night.

Hibbert was not among the 16 prospects invited to watch the NBA Draft from the green room in Madison Square Garden in New York, and one anonymous NBA scout suggested to the Boston Globe that Hibbert would need a parachute to slow his free fall down the draft board.

Georgetown coach John Thompson III doesn’t believe a word of it.

“People don’t know what they are talking about,” Thompson said. “To say getting a degree from Georgetown - getting to be around his friends, to get the degree, to become a better basketball player - to say that’s a negative thing is very short-sighted.”

Hibbert was considered a consensus lottery pick had he entered last June’s draft following his junior season. The 7-foot-2 center’s stock soared after he held his own against Ohio State’s Greg Oden in a Final Four loss. Hibbert took a brief dip in the draft pool before withdrawing his name, saying he had “unfinished business” on the Hilltop.

The Hoyas failed to live up to Hibbert’s expectations of a national title in 2008, and the Adelphi native was dogged by inconsistency throughout his senior season. Hibbert now faces the prospect of hearing his name called later rather than sooner Thursday.

But falling to a stronger team might better suit him. Hibbert’s best performances at Georgetown came when he teamed with star forward Jeff Green, who now plays for the Seattle SuperSonics. At times, Hibbert looked passive as the focal point of Thompson’s offense as a senior. Playing alongside an established inside presence - such as Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor or Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas - would take pressure off Hibbert.

While Hibbert may not have received a green room invitation, plenty of teams have shown interest. Charlotte (which holds the ninth pick), New Jersey (10), Indiana (11), Seattle (picks four and 24), Toronto (17) and Cleveland (19) all have brought in Hibbert for personal workouts, and both Sacramento (12) and Utah (23) invited him back for second sessions.

Hibbert may not have French pro Alexis Ajinca’s athleticism or the rugged toughness of Stanford twins Brook and Robin Lopez, but he’s experienced and one of the more fundamentally sound centers in the draft.

“Roy’s just so coachable, so conscientious,” Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown said after watching Hibbert work out June 14.

Added Nets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe: “In some ways, [he is] much more skilled on the block with different moves and things than some of the other players.”

Hibbert’s sound-but-not-showy style of play may hurt him on draft night, when potential often trumps proven ability. Ajinca, the Lopez brothers, Nevada’s JaVale McGee and Ohio State’s Kosta Koufos are all younger than Hibbert and are seen as having greater upside. Falling behind Koufos, who replaced Oden in the Buckeyes’ frontcourt this past year, would be a cruel twist for Hibbert.

But Thompson said Hibbert, who didn’t respond to interview requests for this story, remains sure of himself and will remain that way.

“Everyone says, ‘This year’s draft is deep,’” Thompson said. “That’s fine. That’s great. But he is a better basketball player now than he was this time last year. This last season prepared him to have success.”

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