Last season Georgetown lost five of seven games decided either in the final seconds or in overtime. Last season Georgetown lost in its bid for the NCAA Tournament. Last season Georgetown’s streak of 27 consecutive postseason appearances ended when the Hoyas declined a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. Last ay Georgetown lost all-time steals and assist leader Kevin Braswell (COL ’02) to graduation. Last summer Georgetown lost prime recruit Harvey Thomas when he transferred to Daytona Beach Community College and then to Northeast Oklahoma A&M. That was then. This is now.

This season junior power forward Mike Sweetney returns to lead a young but improved Georgetown team in its attempt to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. But for Georgetown to return to the dance, the Hoyas must improve their perimeter shooting and turn those late game losses into victories.

“There’s a great tradition here of making the NCAA tournament and then last year we didn’t play in anything and that’s a big dent for the program,” Sweetney said. “It was a pretty tough season last year, and this year we’re just going to have to stay focused and work hard.”

“Last year when we sat and watched the NCAA selection show and Georgetown wasn’t called, they were just as hurt, if not more hurt than I was,” Head Coach Craig Esherick said. “I told them at the time, `Remember how you feel right now and don’t let this happen again.'”

To help avoid the last-second heartbreaks of the previous season, Esherick, now in his fourth full season as head coach, has compiled a videotape of games decided in the waning moments from teams all around the country. He hopes that by better understanding how other teams prevailed, his own players can come out on the winning end more often than not.

“We have to do a better job of closing close games, no question about it,” Esherick said. “Showing people how you can win or lose a game is important. But whether or not we’ll make the same mistakes, I don’t know.”

Despite Sweetney’s presence in the paint, Georgetown’s modus operandi in close games last season was to keep the ball around the three-point line and wait for a last-second shot from the perimeter. In last year’s heart-crushing four-overtime marathon/lactic-acid fest against Notre Dame, the Hoyas had possession at the end of regulation and at the end of the first three overtimes, but never once tried for anything more than a long-range shot, something that has not been one of the Hoyas’ strengths in recent years.

Despite leading the Big East in scoring offense last year, the Hoyas’ perimeter shooting left a lot to be desired. Georgetown’s 165 three-pointers were the fourth lowest total in the Big East last season. The Hoyas shot just 34.7 percent from the perimeter, with no player shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.

That is something that Georgetown hopes to improve this year as sophomore guard Tony Bethel and junior guard/forward Gerald Riley return after shooting 37.6 percent and 38.2 percent from three-point range last season.

“I think that we have enough perimeter shooters,” Esherick said. “I think we have the shooters to take the pressure off of Mike.”

Joining Riley and Bethel on the perimeter will be returning sophomore Drew Hall, who spelled Braswell at the point last season and ought to replace him for the 2002-03 campaign. Hall hit 23 of 60 three-point attempts in 2001-02 while averaging 4.9 points per game off the bench.

Two freshmen recruits could also help the Hoyas on the perimeter. Point guard Ashanti Cook, who was released from his Letter of Intent to New Mexico, along with high school teammate forward Brandon Bowman, join the Hoyas after leading Westchester High to the California State Championship and a No. 1 ranking in the USA Today high school basketball poll. Cook recorded 19 points and seven assists in the Hoyas season-opening exhibition game against the Latvian Select Team, while Bowman led the Hoyas along with Sweetney, scoring 22 points while displaying an exceptionally pure shooting stroke.

After sitting out his freshman season because of academic ineligibility, sophomore forward Darrel Owens will suit up for the Hoyas and may provide further punch from outside. Owens averaged 21 points per game at Assumption High School in Louisiana.

“Darrel, Ashanti and Brandon – all three of those kids are ready to play college basketball right now. Those three are going to be able to get into games right away,” Esherick said. “If the Big East season started today, those kids would be able to contribute.”

While Georgetown’s perimeter shooting may dictate the fortunes of its season, the Hoya frontcourt remains its bread and butter. After averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds last season, the 6-foot-8, 260 lb. Sweetney returns to anchor the traditionally imposing Hoya front line. After just his second season in the Big East, Sweetney is expected to further dominate the conference and has been picked by Dick Vitale and The Sporting News as a Preseason All-American.

Alongside Sweetney, a noticeably more muscular Wesley Wilson will start his senior season at center. Last season, Wilson played well but fell short of expectations, averaging 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Coming into this season, Wilson will need to improve his shooting and play more aggressively under the backboard.

“I’d like to see Wesley become more of a shot blocker,” Esherick said. “I think he was adequate last year as a shot blocker. I’d like to see him try to dominate some games from the defensive end and I think he’s capable of doing that.”

The tandem of Sweetney and Wilson should give the Hoyas an edge against their shorter Big East foes.

“I feel good about the fact that we have Wesley Wilson and ike Sweetney and no one else in our league has Wesley Wilson and ike Sweetney,” Esherick said.

Seniors Victor Samnick and Courtland Freeman give the Hoyas good depth and experience up front. Samnick in particular is a key returnee after missing time last season because of a foot injury.

“He’s one of the best defensive players in the nation,” Freeman said of Samnick. “He can guard all five positions. He’s a very special player.”

“Victor was someone I kept looking down the bench for at the end of ball games,” Esherick said. “He can cover anybody. He can cover a guard like Ben Gordon. He can cover a center. Victor plays very hard.”

Samnick, a strong defensive player, returns after sitting out the majority of last season with a foot injury. Freeman averaged 4.1 points and 3.9 rebounds last season.

The pair will serve as team captains along with Sweetney. Though seniors, both Freeman and Samnick have missed significant time because of injuries in the past.

“I feel better about our depth than I did last year,” Esherick said. “I think we’re deep at every position. And I think that Maryland won the national championship last year because they had an experienced, senior dominated team. To be good that’s what you need.”

Off the bench freshmen Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw and Ryan Beal, juniors Omari Faulkner and the oft-injured RaMell Ross, along with senior guard Trent Hillier will spell the starters.

If the Hoyas perimeter shooting can prevent opposing defenses from collapsing the zone around Sweetney and Wilson, the Hoya front court has the potential to put up some staggering numbers this season and should dominate a height-bereft, but talent-laden Big East Conference.

While the Hoyas face their toughest schedule in years, with non-conference games against South Carolina, Virginia, UCLA and Duke, Georgetown lucks out by avoiding most likely the three toughest teams in the Eastern half of the conference in Connecticut, Villanova and Boston College. While the western half of the Big East has its share of talent, most notably No. 4 Pittsburgh, Georgetown should be able to handle itself well against a young Syracuse squad and a Ryan Humphrey-less Notre Dame with virtually no size in the frontcourt. While Rutgers presented some challenging games last season, including a mid-season win over the Hoyas at the Rack, the Scarlet Knights lost postman Rashod Kent and out to match up poorly inside against the Hoyas.

West Virginia, seemingly as always, presents little challenge, while Seton Hall will likely continue to feel the aftershocks of former Coach Tommy Amaker’s departure and struggle again.

Esherick’s quest to strengthen the Hoyas’ schedule has peaked this season with four quality non-conference games that are certain to grab the selection committee’s attention, including a brutal challenge against No. 6 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. Jan. 8. Georgetown will also complete the second game of series against South Carolina and UCLA. Last season the Hoyas edged the Gamecocks 70-68, while falling to the Bruins 98-91.

“This year’s schedule is an experiment,” Esherick said. “It was made a year and a half ago. In a year people might say the person that made this schedule should have his head examined.”I feel good about this team’s ability to play this schedule. Whether we do this again in the future, I don’t know.”

For the second year, Georgetown will compete in the second annual John Thompson Classic against Virginia. After losing 61-55 to the Cavaliers in a poorly played game at MCI Center last season, the Hoyas travel to Charlottesville for this season’s contest.

The 2002-03 season will not be an easy one for the Hoyas. After losing their on-court leader in Braswell, Sweetney and the seniors will have to step up and fill his vocal void. But with the influx of talent from freshmen Cook and Bowman and the consistent presence of Sweetney and Wilson in the post, come March, the Hoyas just may be dancing.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.