It’s not yet October. By all rights, I should be writing about football or baseball. It’s certainly too early to be talking about the basketball season, but what can I say? I’ve been inspired.

Sitting in Leo’s on Sunday, I looked up to see Craig Esherick and several tall gentlemen I did not recognize. Recruits, I assumed, in for the weekend, enjoying a meal. And thinking about recruits led me to think about the new freshmen, which started me down my own memory lane of Hoya basketball history. When that came to an abrupt dead end, it occurred to me that this season marks the 20th anniversary of Georgetown’s only national championship.

Back then, Georgetown basketball players were students, first and foremost. John Thompson insisted on it and would have it no other way. It all begs the question: how far have we come – or fallen, rather – since those old glory days? We certainly haven’t won another championship, but the important question remains: is Georgetown still producing the high-caliber student-athletes it was famed for in the 80s?

The simple answer is no.

During Thompson’s tenure on the Hilltop, his teams averaged a 97 percent graduation rate. That’s nearly unheard of in today’s collegiate athletics. The league average was just over 40 percent three years ago. Other impressive numbers of the Thompson era include three Final Fours, 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments, 24 consecutive postseason appearances and seven Big East Tournament championships. In short, we were good back then.

But it was more than that. Famed writer and Georgetown grad William Peter Blatty (CAS ’50) once wrote of the Thompson years: “It is the grace of the team and the coach that have touched me: they win without cheating on the court or in the classroom; team members graduate.”

Team members graduate. Interesting concept, isn’t it?

Patrick Ewing graduated in 1985. For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the accomplishments of the team’s class of 2005.

Drew Hall came in as a promising freshman. He averaged 15 points and nine rebounds in high school. Those numbers dropped to 4.2 and 2.1 respectively, over his first two years at Georgetown. Hall transferred this summer.

Tony Bethel played with Hall at Montrose Christian, averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game. Like Hall, his numbers plummeted to 10.5 and 3.6. Bethel transferred this summer.

Harvey Thomas averaged 5.2 points a game in his freshman year. He transferred that summer to Daytona Beach Community College; he later transferred again to Northeast Oklahoma A&M. After a brief stint in the middle of nowhere, Thomas again moved, this time to Baylor University where he allegedly threatened teammate Patrick Dennehy shortly before the latter’s disappearance in June.

Darrel Owens averaged a whopping 2.5 points per game last season after arriving at Georgetown as an academically ineligible freshman.

So 20 years ago nearly every one of Georgetown’s basketball players graduated; three out of four in 2005 never made it past their sophomore years, and the fourth arrived on the Hilltop unable to play.

What kind of athletes is Georgetown admitting? Certainly Thompson would not have allowed such players to join his squad. These are not athletes dedicated to getting a Georgetown education, but neither the athletics department nor the admissions department seems to mind. They have no qualms about giving these players a full ride – a $120,000-plus education – with no strings attached.

I hope and believe that Thompson would be appalled at the lack of commitment such players show to Georgetown. I cannot begin to imagine his reaction to a player arriving at Georgetown ineligible to play. Yet neither university nor coach holds these players to any kind of personal or academic standards, so why should a player hold himself to such standards? They know they’re here for one thing and one thing only: the spectacle for the masses that is college basketball. If they should happen to learn a thing or two on the way, so be it.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Mike Sweetney was, from all accounts, an athlete who held himself to high academic and behavioral standards. Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje graduated as a pre-med math major before following his backup plan to the NBA. And of course, I am not so naive as to believe that Thompson’s players didn’t get their fair share of help on the road to graduation. Nor am I so dumb as to believe that our Georgetown basketball players of today could not graduate at the same rate as they did 20 years ago if the university held them to the same standards as it does other students, both before arriving and while on the Hilltop.

The ironic thing is that when Georgetown was graduating 97 percent of its basketball players, we were also winning 70-plus percent of games. Now, with lower standards and lower graduation rates, the university is getting lower-caliber athletes and the athletics department is getting a lower winning percentage. I guess that’s karma.

So here’s hoping that maybe a few of those athletes I looked upon in Leo’s this weekend will be of a breed as dedicated to Georgetown and to academics as to athletics. It wouldn’t be a new breed of athlete, just a revival of the old.

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