Georgetown Men’s Head Basketball Coach Craig Esherick gets a ton of criticism every single day from Hoya fans, and most of it is pretty unreasonable. Finicky fans complain day in and day out that Esherick will never be the coach that former Hoya Head Coach John Thompson was.

No kidding.

Not to wax Rick Pitino, but John Thompson is not walking through that door. Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) isn’t walking through that door, and even if he did, his knees are so bad that he would probably have to sit down as soon as he got through it. Allen Iverson isn’t walking through that door, thank God, because he was the guy that put the final nail in the glory days of Georgetown basketball’s coffin.

Georgetown basketball as we once knew it is a thing of the past, a relic of the ’80s like the Reagan administration. But unlike the Reagan administration, which was resurrected by the current Bush administration, the glory days of Georgetown basketball aren’t coming back anytime soon.

And it isn’t Craig Esherick’s fault, and there isn’t anything he can do about it.

This isn’t to say that the Hoyas are destined to end up in a mid-major conference; they will still make the Tournament often enough. But unless things change significantly, the Hoyas cannot rationally entertain the thought of challenging for a national title any time soon.

When Thompson patrolled the Georgetown sidelines, the world of college basketball was a different place. No one went directly from high school to the NBA, and almost every player stayed in school for at least two or three years before they made the leap. Schools around the country were signing contracts to play in massive arenas like Madison Square Garden, Chicago Stadium and the Brendan Byrne Arena. Sponsorship was increasing dramatically, and with it coaches’ salaries. With Thompson at the helm, the Hoyas flourished, making three out of four Final Fours in the early ’80s while attracting the best talent in the country.

Georgetown still had dramatic shortcomings in funding and facilities, but those deficiencies were never fully felt because of the figure of Thompson. He was the premier black head coach in the United States, and with that came a requisite desire for athletes from all over the country to want to play for him. He was such a powerful figure that he could have a sit-down with gang leaders from Alonzo Mourning’s (CAS ’92) neighborhood and tell them to leave him alone so he could get an education. He was left alone.

Then, for reasons beyond me, the game fundamentally changed. College basketball became a minor league for the NBA, and soon, players viewed college as a one-year detour on the road to fame and fortune, if they went to school at all. The end of Georgetown’s halcyon days came the moment Iverson announced that he was leaving school early. Thompson’s model of athletics being coequal to academics had fallen apart in college basketball. His successive teams were lackluster, and he resigned in 1999, leaving the program in absolute shambles for Esherick, his long-time deputy, to inherit.

Now, put yourself in Esherick’s shoes. You have to convince top-notch players to come to Georgetown, and outside of academics, the only leg you have to stand on is history. Georgetown has some of the worst facilities in all of big-time college basketball. MCI Center is, along with Continental Airlines Arena, the most sterile, non-intimidating home court in the Big East. cDonough Gymnasium is an absolute joke; a good high school team would be ashamed to play there. How is Esherick supposed to compete with Mike Krzyewski ‘s Cameron Indoor Stadium, Steve Lavin’s Pauley Pavilion, Tubby Smith’s Rupp Arena or Roy Williams’ Phog Allen Fieldhouse?

The way Georgetown used to overcome these shortcomings resigned in 1999, and Esherick can never be the coach Thompson was. Not because Esherick has any technical or operational shortcomings; far from it, in fact. He watched Thompson in action for over 20 years. But Thompson was an absolute icon in the black community, and Esherick can never fill that role.

So why doesn’t the university go out and hire some high-profile coach to overcome the gap? If you really need an answer to that question, you haven’t spent much time here at Georgetown. This is a school where money is like water in the desert; that simply isn’t going to happen in this lifetime.

Esherick is also constrained by his own reverence for this institution. He put it best himself at Georgetown’s Media Day. “I coach at Georgetown. It’s not a smart thing of me to go out and look for people that just play basketball,” he said. “I have two degrees from this university. This university means something to me.” Esherick doesn’t want players like Iverson who want to come for one year on their way to the NBA. Esherick cannot go out and recruit a guy like LeBron James, and I don’t want him to, even if it meant a one-year run to the Final Four. This is a university first and foremost, and basketball can never blatantly come before academics. Letting in players who view Georgetown as a one-year institution would do just that.

Esherick drew a lot of heat last year for making that commitment to academics clear when he declined an NIT bid because his players would miss too much class. He was unequivocally right to do so. The university ought to be proud of Esherick’s prioritization of academics; the flip side of that coin is that the basketball team is not going to attract the top level of talent out of high school. Rare is the guy with the talent of Mike Sweetney, who is willing to stay in school for three years, and I fear he is the last of a dying breed.

So is Georgetown basketball doomed? Barring major changes, it might be. The only thing Georgetown itself can do is to accelerate the renovation of McDonough to make it eligible to play host to Big East home games. That would dramatically help level the recruiting playing field.

Aside from that renovation, Georgetown’s fate may lie outside of its own hands. Unless the NBA bars players from entering the draft without two or three years of college ball, or there is another sea change in players’ attitudes toward college, Georgetown cannot maintain the balance between sports and school that has been its trademark. Forced to choose between the two alternatives, I would take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

So, Hoya fans (and particularly alumni), the next time your longing-for-the-Thompson-days reflex kicks in, think about it for a second. Think about whether you’re upset at Esherick or at the world for having changed around Georgetown. Think about how you can help improve the situation, and instead of writing an angry harangue on a fan Web site, cut a check to the Athletic Department and earmark it for McDonough renovation, especially if you were here during the glory days and know what it was like to have the best program in all of college basketball.

But leave Craig Esherick out of it. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, and he’s staring at a bunch of number cards.

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