HE WAS ONCE considered a project. Three years ago, senior center Roy Hibbert was a 17-year-old, 7-foot-2, 272-pound chunk of modeling clay waiting to be sculpted, and he ran up and down the court like his legs were made of the heavy material itself. People loved him, but they weren’t sure what to make of him. Descriptions of Hibbert from his freshman year were sprinkled with expressions like “raw talent,”awkward” and “slow.” But from the beginning, the wide-eyed youngster in a giant’s body from Georgetown Prep was a fan favorite, as students chanted, “Roy! Roy Roy Roy! Roy Roy Roy! Roy Roy Rooooy! Roy!” Georgetown wanted Hibbert to succeed. Hibbert may not have gotten taller since he enrolled, but he has grown up in every other way. Today, Hibbert is a mature young man who’s not afraid to speak up in practice now that he’s a team captain. On the court, he is refined, running faster than ever. He’ll tell you himself that he’s got more moves in the low post than any other center in the country. Most importantly, Hibbert has gotten comfortable with his body and learned how to use his size to his advantage. “He’s going from – and I don’t know if his high school coach told you this, but – someone who may have been the third-best player on his high school team to someone that’s one, if not the, best player in the country,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. Says Hibbert: “I worked to where I am now, and I’m just gonna have to keep working, you know. When I came into college nobody knew who I was and nobody knew who Georgetown was, so I’m just gonna have to keep working hard for myself and for Georgetown.” Craig Esherick (GSB ’78, LAW ’82), Thompson’s predecessor and the person who recruited Hibbert out of high school, saw Hibbert’s potential when others didn’t. “If people were honest, there is a whole Washington, D.C., area set of coaches that thought that Roy would not be a good player,” Esherick said in a recent interview. “He could always catch the ball, but in terms of just being able to get up and down the floor, that was the biggest problem when you first saw him play, and also, his confidence when he’s got the ball in his hand. . He didn’t really have an idea of what he was going to do when he had the ball.” Those problems, though, did not stop Esherick from accepting Hibbert’s verbal commitment when Hibbert was just a sophomore in high school. Hibbert also received interest from North Carolina and others for his size, but his proximity to Georgetown and its reputation for big men made the decision easy. Esherick knew that Hibbert was in good hands with Georgetown Prep Head Coach Dwayne Bryant (CAS ’90), who played under Esherick when he was an assistant at Georgetown for John Thompson Jr. “He made huge strides while he was playing for Dwayne, absolutely huge,” Esherick said. “Every time you’d go see him he improved a little bit, and with a big man the ability to improve . is the biggest indication that he’s going to be a good player.” Both Esherick and Bryant said that Hibbert’s strong work ethic was a value emphasized by his parents. Hibbert, named after his father, is the son of an immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica, who, coincidentally, went to a rival school of Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85). His father had never been a basketball player, but Roy Junior’s growth and love of the game eventually won his dad over. His father woke at 6 a.m. every morning to go to work so he would be able to leave at 3 p.m. to pick up his son from school. They would then make the drive down Rockville Pike to the Georgetown University campus for open-gym pick-up games, an afternoon ritual that was highlighted by visits from Hoya basketball alumni like Ewing and Alonzo Mourning (CAS ’92), Hibbert’s idols, when they were in town. Hibbert even played with Michael Jordan once, during the days before Jordan’s NBA comeback with the Wizards. For the two or three hours that the young Hibbert practiced with current and future stars, his father would sleep in the car until it was time to head back home. At Georgetown Prep, Bryant could see Hibbert’s determination. “He’s always had a tremendous work ethic, always wanting to get better,” Bryant said recently, “particularly when he felt people were doubting him. He’s always been one of those people who wanted to show people who doubted him what he could do.” THE PROJECT MAY not have become such a household name on campus so quickly if the Hoyas hadn’t been rebuilding during that first year under Thompson. Ideally, the plan would have been to let him ease into playing time; programs at other universities might have even had him redshirt his first year. But there was no time to keep Hibbert’s development confined to practice. The Hoyas needed their freshmen players to step up, and fast. Hibbert made his college debut six and a half minutes into the Hoyas’ very first game that season, at home against Temple. He made his first shot and finished with a promising 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Hibbert’s performance made an impression on Temple Head Coach John Chaney. “Their big guy in the middle, I thought he did a great job against my two big guys,” Chaney said after the game. There were other flashes of brilliance during the season, like two mid-January games versus Syracuse and Notre Dame. At the Carrier Dome, Hibbert put up 12 points and 14 rebounds – nine of them offensive – in a Georgetown loss, and a week later he nailed a slam dunk at the buzzer to give Georgetown a 55-54 win over Notre Dame in then-MCI Center. But Hibbert couldn’t put in consistent full-game performances. “I had three or four or five games right after [the Notre Dame game] where I played horrible,” Hibbert said. “I said, you know, I have to get my act together, and once the season was done, I was like, you know, I should’ve improved after that Notre Dame game.” The overall level of competition in the Big East was a grind for the freshman center. The first conference game, against Connecticut, had him overmatched by the Huskies’ big lineup of 6-foot-11 forward Charlie Villanueva, 6-foot-11 swingman Hilton Armstrong and 6-foot-10 swingman Josh Boone. “They were just bringing them in and out, in and out, and I was the only like real 7-footer, big guy at Georgetown and I had to guard them all,” Hibbert remembered. “It was tough, and it was like the worst game I ever had. I got yelled at for that a couple times.” In all, Hibbert started 17 of 32 games his freshman year, and since he only played 15.8 minutes per game, his season averages were a low 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. At the end of the season, he made it his mission to get in shape so he could put in more quality playing time. “I said, you know what, I’m just gonna ease up Jeff Green’s load because he’s playing center, power forward, point guard and everything. . After games he’d be in the locker room dead tired because he had to play the whole game,” Hibbert said. “I said, you know what, don’t worry about playing center anymore if I get my game together.” THE PROJECT GOT to work. That summer, Hibbert hit the weight room four to five times a week and starting running the short loop around campus, in addition to the team’s conditioning practice every other day. He’d go to as many open gym games as he could find. He played on the Kenner League’s winning team for the second-straight year. “It’s a lot of hours, a lot of hours, and most of the work goes when you’re not in practice,” Hibbert said recently. “You’re shooting around beforehand or working on stuff on your own or with the manager or with the coach, so there’s a lot of time you put in the gym just working on the same moves over and over again. It’s real monotonous. It’s like you just do it over and over and over, so when you get out in the game with the team it’s just natural.” It started to pay off. Previously, he could only squat his body weight; after that summer he could squat up to 365 pounds. He maintained his weight, around 280 pounds, but there was a noticeable change in muscle mass. Basketball-wise, he made rebounding his priority. At Georgetown media day in October 2005, everyone on the team was talking about Hibbert’s off-season improvement. “He’s a lot more confident this year in himself. He’s not as hesitant when he gets the ball down in the paint,” teammate Ashanti Cook (COL ’06) said about Hibbert. “If he’s coming I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that can stop him.” “He’s not close to being as good as he will be, but I think he’s better than when we both walked in the door last year,” Thompson predicted. “You will definitely see – we have seen – growth in Roy’s game.” Hibbert made his opening statement in Georgetown’s first game of the 2005-2006 season at Navy, amassing 20 points (then a career high), along with seven rebounds and four blocks. The much-improved sophomore would go on to average 11.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on the season, putting him on the all-Big East second team. The real coming out party for Hibbert, though, was in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, when the seventh-seed Hoyas defeated the second-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes behind Hibbert’s 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. With a spot in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001, the Hoyas were back. The 7-foot-2 Hibbert couldn’t help but stand out. THE PROJECT WAS just getting started. During the summer of 2006, Hibbert stuck to his off-season regimen of weight training, running and playing basketball, losing 15 pounds in the process. “He’s growing by leaps and bounds,” said guard Jonathan Wallace, Hibbert’s teammate and classmate, at Georgetown media day that year. “Every year he has his personal goals and his team goals. He’s working hard and takes it upon himself to push every guy on the team to reach that high level. He wants to be a dominant force and we need him to be that.” The bigger the game, the better Hibbert played. During championship week and the NCAA Tournament, Hibbert scored in double-digits in all but one of Georgetown’s eight games, and he averaged 8.6 rebounds. When he matched up with 7-foot Greg Oden, who was widely considered to be the best center in college basketball, Hibbert more than held his own, putting up 19 points although foul trouble held him to 24 minutes in the Hoyas’ eventual loss. Hibbert’s consistent improvement mirrors that of the Hoyas. Every year his shooting percentage has improved, from .469 freshman year to .590 to .671 last year, which was the second best in the nation. At the same time, the team has advanced from the NIT in 2005 to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in 2006 to, of course, the Final Four last year. Perhaps the biggest indicator of how far Hibbert had come, though, was when Georgetown faced Connecticut in the final game of the regular season. Led by Hibbert’s 18 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, three assists and three blocked shots, the Hoyas defeated the Huskies for the first time in a decade, 59-46, and clinched the Big East regular season title. “Two years ago, he could not play in the game against us. Today, he dominated the game,” UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun said after the game. “It’s a tribute to how much he has improved.” In the game, Hibbert was matched up with 7-foot-3 freshman center Hasheem Thabeet, a native of Tanzania, who started playing basketball when he was 15. Though Thabeet had that extra inch, there was no containing Hibbert. Thabeet finished the game with six points and four rebounds. “I told [Thabeet] afterwards, `Keep working on your game. You’ll be all right,'” Hibbert said. “He’s a project. I was there at one time.” IF HIBBERT HAD left Georgetown after the team’s Final Four campaign, he would have been considered a very good player. He estimates that he would have been drafted somewhere between 10th and 15th. But that was never the point for Hibbert. For him, the idea was to become one of Georgetown’s legendary centers, and for that, he would stay to get his degree, just like his idols did. “Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a part of the Georgetown tradition,” Hibbert told the Washington Times before his junior year. “My dream was always to have people talk about me as one of the great ones in Georgetown’s line of centers. I watch tapes of Patrick and Alonzo and Dikembe [Mutombo], and that’s the epitome of what I want to be. That’s a four-year project. And hopefully after four years, I’ll have a chance to be mentioned in that company.” He’s on his way. He was named Big East preseason player of the year last month. ESPN says that “Hibbert may be the best true center in the nation.” Sports Illustrated calls him the No. 2 senior in the country. Opposing players and coaches are even spreading the love. Junior guard Eric Devendorf from archrival Syracuse said it is a “privilege” to play against Roy. Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright, who coached Hibbert at the Pan-Am Games this past summer, said that he was “blown away” by how smart, committed, passionate and coachable Hibbert proved to be. Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino thinks that he will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft next year. BUT THE MORE things change, the more things stay the same. On some mornings you’ll still see him running up the Exorcist stairs with teammate Tyler Crawford at 7, even though Thompson doesn’t require them to run outside of practice. Hibbert still puts in hours in the gym – this year, he wants to perfect his jump shot. He’s said that he wants to take his first three-pointer this year, to which Wallace, the team’s three-point specialist, responded, “He’s been working on those shots, so if he thinks he can he can hit it, I hope to God he hits it.” And Hibbert is still a man of the people, as evidenced by his venture into the crowd during this year’s Midnight Madness. He promised it was spontaneous, adding jokingly, “Actually, I was gonna jump in the crowd and have them carry me up, but they didn’t go for that.” He’s on first-name basis with local NBA star Gilbert Arenas – they’re both big fans of “Halo 3” – but he’s friendly enough that even the lowliest freshman can muster up the confidence to say hello to him on campus. Hey, better do it now while you can. According to his coach, Hibbert is going places. “If we’re talking about an arc, we still are at the bottom end. It’s not like he’s up here,” Thompson said, holding his hand up near his head. “He’s gonna continue to get better for the next five or 10 years. One day he’s going to be one of the best, if not the best, player in the world.” – HOYA Staff Writers Harlan Goode and Olivia Scott contributed reporting from New York.

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