FILE PHOTO: CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA Senior center Henry Sims has nearly quadrupled his points-per-game average from last season.
FILE PHOTO: CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA
Senior center Henry Sims has nearly quadrupled his points-per-game average from last season.

The No. 9 Hoyas enter a daunting final stretch of games as perhaps the most surprising team in the nation, thanks in large part to the play of Henry Sims.

The senior center scored a career-high 19 points in the first game of the year, broke that in a 24-point performance against Memhpis 11 days later and hasn’t looked back since. Against Rutgers last Saturday, the 6-foot-10 big man achieved another career milestone, notching his first ever double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Baltimore native hasn’t gone unnoticed by the national media, and is often found at the top of lists of the nation’s most improved players.

“I kind of expected it, because I expected to come out this year and to surprise a couple of people,” Sims said of his newfound place in the national spotlight. “I haven’t had as good a three years as I wanted to, so this year I knew I would be playing and I had to make a name for myself. That was my mindset — to make sure I leave and people remember who I was.”

Until this season, Sims was better known on the Hilltop for his failed bid to become the student body vice president last spring than for his athletic achievements.

On the basketball court, Sims was nothing but a disappointment. A highly touted high school senior in the Class of 2008, Sims joined Greg Monroe and Jason Clark in a recruiting class that was ranked among the top 10 in the nation.

Then, Sims just disappeared. He averaged less than two points and two rebounds per game in his first two seasons, overshadowed by the dominant Monroe. Despite Sims’ talent, he was was rarely called off the bench to spell Monroe or other members of the frontcourt. Sims’ playing time doubled in his junior year after Monroe’s departure to the NBA, but he still averaged only three points and three boards per game.

This summer, though, something changed when Sims realized he had just one year left on the Hilltop. So he hit the gym. By his own estimation, Sims spent 90 percent of the summer getting stronger, working with former NBA and Georgetown center and current team assistant Othella Harrington on becoming tougher around the basket.

All that work has produced tremendous results, and Sims’ stat line (12 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 blocks per game) reflects his improvement. He leads the team in assists, and hits 73 percent of his free throws, both of which are unusual for a center.

Head Coach John Thompson III is among those surprised by Sims’ quick turnaround, but he still has advice for the the former Mount St. Joseph star.

“Henry has to rebound more,” Thompson III said. “That’s something that he understands and now he has to go out and do it, and hopefully that will not be his last [double-double], but he has to go out and rebound more.”

Rebounding isn’t the only skill in which Sims has room for improvement. He shoots 47 percent from the field — by no means a terrible number, but still too low for a post player. His season has been slightly marred by a few poor shooting performances, including a 3-of-12 mark in the second game against Memphis and a 2-of-13 showing against Providence. Even in his double-double performance against Rutgers, Sims was just 2-of-9 from the floor. In fact, nearly a third of Sims’ points have come at the free-throw line.

“All-around, nobody is perfect, I still have to work hard,” Sims said. “Strength, and probably offense, making sure I’m not the only one getting shots, making sure I can facilitate for other people as well.”

Facilitation has been his best attribute thus far. Although he has been distributing excellently all season, Sims still frequently catches opponents by surprise with remarkably quick and accurate passes. His height is also an asset in this phase of the game, as it allows him to create passing lanes that shorter players wouldn’t be able to see. His passing acumen has, in turn, opened up space for Sims to drive to the hoop or take his surprisingly effective midrange jumper.

“I think Henry has progressed in all areas. I think confidence is his biggest one,” junior forward Hollis Thompson said. “I think he’s really confident in himself and we’re confident in him. Offensively and defensively, he’s made massive strides.”

Sims said that he chose Georgetown for multiple reasons — excellent academics, proximity to home and the history of its basketball program among them — and that it was a no-brainer to come play for Thompson III.

“It felt like it fit me,” Sims said in October.

It did — perfectly. Thompson III’s Princeton-style attack relies on forwards and centers to distribute the ball, and Sims has proven to be adept in a role that Monroe shined in while the two were roommates.

Sims’ emergence is driven by one desire. Both he and Clark have yet to win a game in either the NCAA tournament or the NIT. It’s that desire to leave a positive legacy that has manifested itself in a never-say-die attitude between the two friends.

“Me and Jason, we’re both really close and it kind of gives us ownership of the team,” Sims said. “It’s kind of our duty to make sure we lead this team the right way, lead vocally and by example as well.”

“You come to college not knowing many people, and you meet somebody, and you are immediately glued to them,” Clark said before the season started. “[Sims is] a big reason for my success here.”

As for post-graduation plans, Sims refused to comment. He’s staying focused on the season, and with good reason. Georgetown still has 10 conference matchups left, including games against Syracuse, Connecticut, Notre Dame and a rematch against Marquette.

“[Jason and I] haven’t gotten to where we want to get, to the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight, a Big East title,” Sims said in October. “You never want to leave a place without your name being remembered.”

If Sims keeps playing like this, there’s no chance that he will be forgotten.

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