There will be no big man on the court for the Hoyas this year. But there will be Gerald Riley, the one player with potential to lead the young team.

With Mike Sweetney’s early departure for the NBA, the team will look to Riley to fill the sizable numbers gap that the former Hoya frontman took with him to the New York Knicks.

“I’m not looking forward to coming out and trying to score Mike’s points,” Riley said. “But I have to do everything and anything it takes to win.”

Riley has the trappings of a statistical team leader. If last season was any indication, it will be Riley who gets the ball, beyond the arc most of the time. He led the 2002-03 squad in three-point percentage, making his three-pointers 41.5 percent of the time – including a few that sent last year’s games into overtime.

Sweetney’s departure, along with the team’s other offseason losses, have not only paved the way for broad changes in the Georgetown roster, but for the dawn of a whole new approach to Hoya basketball.

“With Mike being here last year, we used to have a slower pace,” Riley said. “Now, we have to speed the pace up a little bit.”

Georgetown’s faster play will leave the Hoyas looking for three pointers and shots from the outside – a style Esherick called a “potent attack on perimeter.” Riley, who was second to Sweetney in total points (479) and points per game (14.1), is the perfect fit to fill these new roles.

“The question is how we’re going to replace the rebounds, the easy baskets,” head coach Craig Esherick said.

Riley had 52 offensive and 55 defensive boards last season, while Sweetney had 137 and 215, respectively. As an on-court leader, Riley will need to do better than his average of just over three rebounds a game in 2002-03.

As for Riley’s role in this new system, Esherick has two options: small forward or shooting guard. He began his career in 2000 as a small forward, but Esherick later moved him from the frontcourt to shooting guard, allowing him to gain experience on the defensive end. For Riley, the move paid off as he led the team with 60 steals.

But this year, the senior should see a lot of action teaming with power forward Brandon Bowman in the frontcourt, though Bowman may end up at small forward and Riley back on defense.

Regardless of where he plays, Riley brings experience at the charity stripe, with 14 perfect outings en route to a team-leading .843 free-throw percentage last year.

Riley leads the team in another statistic, albeit a notorious category that will hamper his effectiveness: personal fouls. He had four or more fouls in 18 of his team’s 34 contests, including nine games in which he fouled out. Victor Samnick left five matches and Tony Bethel left four, but no other Hoya had more than three foul-outs last year.

Whether or not he got to finish the games, by starting in each of the Hoyas’ 48 Big East contests over the past three seasons, Riley clearly has the longest resume and the most experience to be a team captain among his young teammates.

“I’ve got to show a leadership role on the court,” he said.

In essence, Riley is returning to his roots. In his final year at Baldwin High School in Milledgeville, Ga., he had 28 points and 12 rebounds a game. His double-double average – something unseen since becoming a Hoya – led him to earn All-State honors and to be considered one of the state’s top players.

“I’m just ready to come out and play,” Riley said.

Added strain will come not from just living up to expectations, but from surpassing them. The Hoyas come into the season ranked 12th in the Big East – their lowest position since Georgetown helped found the conference in 1979.

“Everybody’s been writing us off. I’ve been hearing that,” Riley said. “That’s what we like. We like for people to write us off.”

But, as a team leader, Riley has not allowed polls and predictions to affect the way Georgetown approaches the season.

“I’m more relaxed than ever,” he said. “Every year people come and go. This is a new group now. The group of guys we have now is a good group of guys.”

Players come and go, but maybe with Riley in charge this group of guys will linger in the Hilltop’s collective memory.

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

Comments are closed.