Aside from the enormous expectations placed on point guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown will depend on its three freshmen and five returning sophomores to play heavy minutes this season.
Smith-Rivera, a senior, led the team with 16.3 points and 3.2 assists last year. He was the only upperclassman to average more than five minutes per game last year, which was punctuated by a 75-64 loss to No. 4 seed Utah in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I’ve told our sophomores we need them to perform like seniors,” coach John Thompson III said. “And that’s as it relates to production but more importantly in understanding and caring. I’m putting a lot on their shoulders, but I think they can handle it.”
Sophomore forward Isaac Copeland and sophomore guard L.J. Peak are expected to carry much of the weight left by the departures of starters Joshua Smith and Jabril Trawick.
Both Copeland and Peak logged significant minutes during their freshmen campaigns. Thompson expects that experience to translate into maturity. The players, for their part, felt they were ready for the expanded role.
“We were thrown in the fire last year,” Copeland said. “This year, now, we’re going to be a more pivotal piece of the team.”
Peak played with the USA Basketball U-19 team in the world championships over the summer and felt the experience helped mold him into more of a leader. He was the first to acknowledge he may not fit that profile.
“I’m not much of a talker, so I just lead by example,” Peak said.
Peak said he focused on further developing his jumper and working on his ball handling. Dribbling was also a point of emphasis over the offseason for Copeland, who grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The expanded skill sets of Copeland and Peak ought to help them transition into their expanding roles in Georgetown’s offense. The sophomores should prove valuable resources for the team’s freshmen, who will be expected to log the same heavy minutes that the sophomores handled a year ago.
“This year’s freshmen class is going to play just like last year’s freshmen class played,” Thompson said. “The sophomore class is going to have to make huge strides and … be consistent.”
The freshman class — center Jessie Govan and forwards Marcus Derrickson and Kaleb Johnson — were not permitted to speak to reporters on Tuesday, keeping with Thompson’s policy. It was clear, however, that both the players and the coaches were expecting big things out of the talented youngsters.
“I think they’re all really good, and I think they’re all going to play right away,” junior forward Reggie Cameron said. “Jessie is a presence down there offensively, just as good as anyone else in the Big East, I think. Marcus and Kaleb, they both rebound their butts off and make plays that other people don’t want to make all the time.”
Although the younger players will be asked to step into greater leadership roles than they might be accustomed to, the unquestioned leader of the team is still Smith-Rivera. His presence on the roster wasn’t always a given, however. The 22-year-old declared for the NBA draft before deciding to return to Georgetown for his senior year.
“I embrace it. Guys come to me every day with certain things that they deal with, even off the floor as well,” Smith-Rivera said. “It’s important for me to be reliable for my teammates.”