Charles Nailen/The Hoya Senior guard Gerald Riley will serve as co-captain this season. Averaging 14.1 points per game last year, he was the team’s second leading scorer.

Tuesday’s release of the 2003-04 Georgetown men’s basketball schedule gave some fans, disappointed by the exodus of players last season and this summer, more reason to think of the upcoming year as a time for rebuilding. But head coach Craig Esherick (CAS ’78, LAW ’82), whose mindset continues to focus on the long-term program rather than a single season, believes some of that rebuilding has already been done.

Esherick will be working with a team that has lost forward Mike Sweetney to the NBA, guards Drew Hall and Tony Bethel and assistant coaches Ronnie Thompson and Chip Simms. In July, sophomore Brandon Bowman also reportedly left the team but returned one week later, according to the Washington Post.

But Esherick said he is happy with the incoming freshman class – three new scholarship players, one walk-on and one who redshirted last season – and particularly pleased with the addition of two new assistant coaches.

“I think Drew and Tony leaving, without getting into specifics . you want to try and avoid things like that from happening. But this is a very good school. This is a very competitive basketball program and people are just not going to stay here for the rest of their lives,” Esherick said in an interview Monday at McDonough Arena.

It was first reported that Bethel would leave on May 10, and he has now enrolled at N.C. State. In May, Bethel’s father told the Washington Post, “He has no ill will toward Coach Esherick or the program. I don’t want any misreads. Tony’s best interest is looking at other programs.”

Bethel’s move was viewed as a surprise to the team and coaching staff, but it had been reported that Hall was seeking to transfer.

Hall’s intention to attend Gonzaga was announced shortly after Bethel decided to leave. However, late this summer, it was reported that during summer school Hall failed to meet the terms of an academic contract he had made with the school. He will instead attend College of Charleston.

He told the Charleston Post and Courier, “I liked Georgetown and the coaching staff, but there was a lot of stress playing so close to home and I needed a change.”

The Washington Post reported on July 10 that yet another Hoya, Bowman, would also transfer, citing Bowman’s father as the only source. However, just one week later, the Post reported that he would in fact stay at Georgetown, and he is now enrolled and on the current roster.

Thompson is an assistant at Arkansas, and the Georgetown Sports Information Department had no information about whether Simms had a new position.

In addition to departures from the team, the Big East conference over the summer also suffered the departures of Miami and Virginia Tech. Esherick has been very closely involved in conference discussions and says that he and Athletic Director Joe Lang speak daily about developments.

“There’s no way that I ever want to go through a summer where you have two coaches and two players leave at the same time and then go through the crap we had to go through with the ACC and Big East at the same time too. That’s not good,” Esherick said.

Schedule

Duke, Temple and Penn State highlight this season’s non-conference opponents, and the Big East teams Georgetown will face twice are Miami, St. John’s and Virginia Tech. Just three of the matchups will be shown on national television, whereas last year’s schedule had nine. Rival Syracuse will come to CI Center on Feb. 21, and the Hoyas will travel to face Connecticut, sure to be highly-ranked, on Jan. 14.

Only one Big East game, the Syracuse matchup, will be televised, whereas last year ESPN picked up games against Pittsburgh, Miami, West Virginia and Syracuse, and CBS showed Georgetown at Notre Dame. This year, the second game in the home and home series with Duke will be on CBS on Jan. 24, and the Feb. 14 game at Temple will be on ESPN.

Esherick noted that the schedule was released late because the Big East took longer than usual to finalize the dates for conference games, which he said he thought was due to how busy they have been in recent months.

On Monday, Esherick also discussed future scheduling options that are currently in the works. He mentioned two-year deals beginning next season with Michigan and University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school, as strong possibilities. He said Georgetown has accepted an invitation to play in the Maui Classic, one of the top preseason tournaments, in either 2006 or 2007 and will likely play in the Rainbow Classic at the University of Hawaii next year.

New Assistants

Because Ronnie Thompson’s name was being mentioned at schools looking for head coaches, Esherick said he was prepared for his departure and put new assistant coach Jaren Jackson (MSB ’89) “on notice about a year ago.” But the surprise exit of Chip Simms left a second hole, which Esherick chose to fill with Chuck Driesell.

“I think that both of them are going to end up doing really good jobs for us and I’m really happy that both of them decided to come here. I think I really got lucky because those are the first two that I asked,” Esherick said.

Driesell is the son of legendary Maryland coach Lefty Driesell and has spent the last six years as the head coach at Marymount University. Esherick’s connection with the family goes back a long way, as he was classmates with Patty Driesell in seventh grade and childhood friends with Chuck. He recently sent his two sons to Chuck’s basketball camp at Marymount.

“I’d known Lefty’s family and specifically had known Chuck before I knew [head coach emeritus John] Thompson, before I knew anybody here, before I even thought about going to college,” Esherick said. “I had had a familiarity with the family, so there was some history there and a level of comfort there that also was why I hired him.”

Jackson retired in 2001 from the NBA, where he played for eight teams including the 1999 World Champion San Antonio Spurs.

Big East

Esherick said that of all the happenings of the summer with players and coaches, he found the departure of Virginia Tech and iami for the Atlantic Coast Conference and the ensuing discussion about the future of the Big East to be the biggest distraction.

“When you go through all of that, I think people lose the perspective that we’ve been playing basketball here since 1906. 1906! So whatever happens with Virginia Tech and Miami leaving, people still have to realize that the school has made a commitment to their athletic department, and the athletic department has made a commitment to the basketball program. We will get through this,” Esherick said.

Either Lang or University President John J. DeGioia has attended all of the Big East meetings concerning team departures to the ACC. Esherick said that they continue to look at options for reconfiguring the league or leaving it as is.

“Georgetown is going to be intimately involved with whatever does happen. And . just like we formed the [Big East], we’re going to help form what does happen,” Esherick said.

A big consequence of the changes was that opposing recruiters could use the instability of the conference as a negative against Big East teams.

“There are plenty of things people can use to recruit against you, but that is just awful. Talk about serving a meal on both platters to people [who] are recruiting against you. And that was my biggest worry . they’re going to come up with their own analysis of what’s going to happen to the league, whether it’s true or not,” Esherick said.

He said he now “feel[s] great” about current recruiting, but “getting to the point where I feel right now was a lot of work, not just me but by a lot of people.”

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