- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

After six months of chewing on the bitter memories of last season’s underachieving debacle, the Georgetown men’s basketball team is desperate for the fare of a fresh start.

The Hoyas began last season 12-3 only to spiral to a 4-12 finish, which included them failing to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since coach John Thompson III’s first season at Georgetown.

“We’re not going to forget last year,” the fifth-year coach said. “You have to learn lessons from that. That taste is in our mouth. That has to be a part of our growth. But at the same time, we’re not going to harp on it either.

“This group is hungry. Even though some of the components are the same, collectively this is a totally different group. … There’s a totally different feel and a totally different energy to this year’s team. And that’s good.”

Gone from the squad that finished its 16-15 campaign by blowing a lead against Baylor in the first round of the NIT are leading scorer DaJuan Summers (13.6 points) and guard Jessie Sapp, the final remnants of the team that reached the 2007 Final Four.

Back are sophomore center Greg Monroe, last season’s Big East rookie of the year, and the junior backcourt tandem of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman.

“I’m not going to lie, last season was really hard,” said Freeman, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard from DeMatha who spent his sophomore season in a shooting slump (30.8 percent from 3-point range). “It was real tough, but we just want to learn from all that. I feel like we’re all more committed this year. I’ve never worked harder than I did this summer, and I think that’s true of probably everybody on the team. There’s definitely a different feeling of desire around the entire team this year. We know it’s going to be hard, but I think we’re all ready to embrace that [challenge].”

The Hoyas again will face one of the nation’s toughest nonconference schedules, following a home opener against Temple (Nov. 17) with neutral-site tests against Top 25 locks Butler (Dec. 8) and Washington (Dec. 12) before closing out their nonleague slate against ACC favorite Duke (Jan. 30).

On the plus side, the Big East shouldn’t be quite as formidable at the top; last season, both Connecticut and Villanova made the Final Four, and Pittsburgh and regular-season champion Louisville were No. 1 seeds.

And while Georgetown doesn’t boast a single senior on its roster, the Hoyas no longer will be one of the league’s youngest squads. Aside from starters Monroe (12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds), Wright (12.5 points, 3.8 assists) and Freeman (11.4 points), Georgetown welcomes back occasional starters Nikita Mescheriakov and bench staples Jason Clark, Henry Sims and Julian Vaughn.

“We don’t have any seniors, but we do have experience,” Thompson said.

Much of the optimism surrounding this season’s squad is focused on Monroe, a 6-11, 247-pound talent from Louisiana on most All-America watch lists. The versatile left-hander was also among the team leaders in assists (2.5), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.5) last season and spent the summer polishing his skills at the Amare Stoudemire Basketball Camp as well as improving his strength and conditioning to prepare for what could be his last season with the Hoyas.

“It definitely feel a lot different this year,” said Monroe, who like the rest of the Hoyas will begin practice in earnest Friday at Georgetown’s Midnight Madness celebration. “I’ve been here a whole year, and I know what to expect now.

“Last year, I knew the level was going to be a lot higher, but knowing that and doing something about it are two different things. This year, I know I’m going to be much more consistent. There won’t be that little gap with them waiting on me to adjust, and hopefully there won’t be the occasional lulls in my game during the season because I’m more prepared physically and mentally for the rigors of the season.”

• Barker Davis can be reached at bdavis@washingtontimes.com.

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