MEN’S HOOPS Esherick Says N-O to NIT By John-Paul Hezel Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya A contemplative Esherick speaks at the press conference following Georgetown’s loss to Miami.

Men’s basketball Head Coach Craig Esherick late Sunday night turned down Georgetown’s bid to play in the National Invitation Tournament, citing cross-country travel arrangements that would force his players to miss more than one day of classes.

The Hoyas, who were left out of the NCAA Tournament field, will not participate in the postseason for the first time in 27 seasons.

“This is not something I took lightly at all,” Esherick said. “I’ve been very proud that we made 27 postseason tournaments. This wasn’t a trivial decision. But looking at everything, I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Esherick had originally accepted the invitation from the NIT committee that would have sent the Hoyas to Richmond on Tuesday or Wednesday. Esherick says that he agreed to the matchup because Georgetown would be able to travel to Richmond after class on onday for a Tuesday game or on Tuesday for a Wednesday game and return to campus immediately following the contest. That way, the players would have missed only one day of class.

After telling the team in the locker room that it looked like it would play the Spiders, Esherick returned to his office and started to gather information on the Hoyas’ probable opponent. However, at around 8:30 p.m. that apparent foe changed when a member of the NIT committee called Georgetown Athletic Director Joseph C. Lang and told him that representatives from ESPN wanted the Hoyas to travel to Iowa to play the Hawkeyes on Wednesday.

Esherick said that decision made him even angrier about the NCAA selection show earlier that Sunday.

“If ESPN wants you to play that means you’re popular and you’re good,” Esherick said. “We should have been one of the 65 teams picked based on who [the committee] picked.”

The Hoyas, who finished 19-11 (9-7 Big East), lost two games by one point and four in overtime, including one to Notre Dame in four overtime periods and one to Miami in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.

Following the phone call, Esherick and Lang continued to lobby for an NIT home game, but McDonough Gymnasium holds too small a crowd, and MCI Center is the site of the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament this week. An alternative may have been to travel for the first round to Charlottesville to play Virginia, but there was a possibility that the second round game would be at Arizona State.

“The more and more I heard this, the more I said the heck with this,” Esherick said.

Team manager and tri-captain Ryan Growney said that Esherick called him and fellow captains Kevin Braswell and Courtland Freeman four times throughout the evening to update them on the situation.

“He called and told us that he didn’t know what was going on,” Growney said.

Between 11 and 11:30 p.m., after having talked to his coaches and Academic Advisor Mike Riley, Esherick made the final decision to decline the NIT offer. He said that he did not seek the team’s input when contemplating what to do.

“It was a personal choice on my part,” Esherick said. “I don’t believe in placing blame on [the players]. I don’t think it’s their role to advise me on something like that.”

Esherick said he was afraid that the team would fall too far behind in its collective studies, and he said that he was not prepared to sacrifice more class time after having already played 30 games. Esherick said that in his final decision “basketball didn’t even factor into the equation.”

Esherick phoned his captains and University President John J. DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Stewart McLaurin before heading home. The next morning, Esherick called DeGioia directly to explain his decision.

Some sportscasters and students alike have speculated that Esherick chose to refuse the Hoyas’ bid because the NIT is the second-tier postseason tournament. But Esherick repudiates that claim as “absolutely not true,” pointing to the fact that he initially accepted the proposal. Esherick also maintains that the Hoyas would have traveled anywhere to play in the NCAAs.

“We still would have gone,” he said. “And I can deal with being called a hypocrite. I’ve been called worse.”

Esherick called a team meeting on Monday to inform the team of his decision. Growney said that most of the players found out the night before, but a few had no idea until being called together the next day. Esherick said the team was “fine” with the news.

“It was disappointing, but we understood why he made the decision and agree with it,” Growney said.

Braswell, like the other captains who had been notified the night before, had mixed feelings.

“It was kind of a relief, because now I can catch up on reading and things like that,” he said. “But from a basketball standpoint, it hurts, because now I finish [my career] with a loss.”

Braswell, the only senior on this year’s squad, said he expects to graduate in May.

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