- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

Georgetown’s version of the Monroe Doctrine is even more unequivocal than the original document.

“We’ll go as far as the big fella takes us,” junior point guard Chris Wright said.

The “big fella” is center Greg Monroe, the 6-foot-11, 247-pound sophomore who returns for his second and perhaps last season on the Hilltop, hoping to improve upon the performance that made him last season’s Big East rookie of the year.

“Even though I thought I knew what to expect last year, you don’t totally understand it until you actually experience the physical and mental pounding of the Big East season,” said Monroe, a New Orleans native who hopes to make a victorious homecoming when the Hoyas open their season Friday night at Tulane. “This year does feel different. I know what’s coming for both me and the team, and I’m ready.”

It would be difficult to argue that the versatile big man failed to live up to expectations last season after arriving at Georgetown as one of the nation’s top-ranked recruits. Monroe collected the newcomer of the year award in what may have been the most loaded league in college basketball history by averaging 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals.

Yet Monroe’s individual success was overshadowed by the team’s failures: The Hoyas’ promising 12-3 start unraveled during a 4-12 finish. Georgetown missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since John Thompson III’s debut season of 2004-05.

While Monroe’s numbers held steady during the team’s second-half devolution, supporting the big man’s repeated assertion that he never hit the proverbial freshman wall, conference coaches did notice a change in his game during the team’s slide.

“As the season went on, teams figured out that he would defer somewhat to the older guys on their roster,” a Big East coach said at the league’s media day. “If you pressured Monroe, he wouldn’t force things, but some of his teammates would. I expect that dynamic will change some this season.”

And despite his superb freshman campaign, some form of that critique comes from every corner. A survey of 19 NBA mock draft Web sites shows Monroe projected anywhere from the first to the 13th pick in June’s draft.

“Nobody questions his skills or upside,” said one NBA scout, who asked to remain anonymous. “His body and talent alone make him a lottery pick, but I think how high he goes depends on how assertive he is as a player this season. Does he have the passion to be a nightly game-changer, or is he simply supremely gifted?”

One statistic jumps out in reference to Monroe’s deference during his freshman season: Monroe led Georgetown in shot attempts only five times in 31 games even though he led the team in field goal percentage (.572).

Some of that was because of the double teams that frequently confronted Monroe as opponents game-planned to force other players to beat them. Some of it was a product of the program’s continuing struggles to deliver basic entry passes, an issue also apparent during the Roy Hibbert era.

And sometimes Monroe simply passed on open shots. That reticence to shoot was most notable in the high post, where Monroe routinely eschewed open looks in spite of being a solid face-up shooter who connected on 70 percent of his free throw attempts.

“There’s no question that Greg has to be more assertive,” Thompson said. “I don’t just mean in terms of taking shots. In some games it might mean that - taking more shots and scoring more. But he has the ability to impose his will on a game in a variety of ways, whether it be scoring, passing, rebounding or defending. He needs to do that for longer stretches this season in order for us to be successful.”

At least two factors that kept Monroe from dominating as a freshman should be significantly mitigated this season. After showing some signs of wear and tear near at the end of the season, Monroe spent his summer getting in better shape. He focused on strength and conditioning before and after a midsummer trip to the prestigious Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy in Phoenix.

“I didn’t gain any weight, because I lost so much body fat through conditioning,” Monroe said. “But I am a lot stronger, and my endurance is up so that I can be ready for the wear and tear of the Big East season.”

And Monroe’s deference to teammates last season was only natural. He was the only freshman among a group of starters that normally included a senior (Jessie Sapp), a junior (DaJuan Summers) and two sophomores (Chris Wright and Austin Freeman).

With Sapp and Summers gone, those deferential days are over.

“I’m more comfortable with being a leader now that I’m no longer a freshman,” Monroe said. “Last year is over. It’s a new day, and we’re all ready to start fresh on something special.”

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