Madison Square Garden, perhaps the world’s most famous arena, provided a fitting backdrop for celebrating the past and present of Georgetown basketball this past Thursday, when the No. 22 Hoyas downed St. John’s. While ESPN ran highlight montages of the “sweater game” and other epic clashes between the Hoyas and the Johnnies, junior forward Jeff Green scored a career high to lead his team to a resounding 72-48 victory over the Red Storm.

Roughly 24 hours later and some 200 miles to the south, a cramped gymnasium on the campus of Gallaudet University set the stage for a glimpse into the program’s promising future.

In the coming attractions before the week of celebrations marking the program’s centennial, two of Head Coach John Thompson III’s star recruits faced off against one another. Green and Georgetown freshmen forwards Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers were just three of the 2,000 basketball fans that packed the stands to watch guard Austin Freeman of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., square off against future teammate Chris Wright, a guard who attends St. John’s College High here in the District.

If Freeman was any indication, Thompson should have no trouble reloading, even if Green decides to test the NBA draft waters. From the moment he took the floor, Freeman stood out from the crowd. During pregame warm-ups, as the Stags paraded onto the floor in matching white warm-up T-shirts, Freeman alone wore gray. While the rest of his teammates executed an elementary layup drill, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard lounged on the hardwood as a team of trainers took care to see his long legs stay limber.

At the other end of the floor, Wright stuck to his routine of knocking down jumpers from various spots on the court. Those who follow the Cadets say that whatever the surroundings, each court sets the stage for the Chris Wright Show.

“Him and [senior forward and George Mason recruit] Vlad oldoveanu are the only ones that shoot,” Kenny Harrison, the team’s photographer, says as Wright calmly drains threes during the shoot-around. “Just watch.”

But once the game began, Wright had trouble emerging from the tall shadow of his future teammate. Though surrounded by a talented supporting cast, Freeman seemed content to control the game himself, and after one eight-minute quarter he had already notched 12 points.

Wright’s shot at glory came on the opening play of the second quarter. With Freeman resting on the bench, Wright snagged an errant Stag pass and raced down court as the crowd rose to its feet in anticipation of a dramatic dunk. But the thunderous roar of jubilation sank to a deflating whimper of disappointment as the ball caromed off the back-iron and the DeMatha student section taunted their star rival with chants of “You’re not Austin!”

Soon thereafter, Freeman slipped back onto the court, seemingly ambivalent about the throngs of fans who had flocked from far away to see him perform. Still, he did not disappoint his followers, and verified his dominance with a 6-0 run to close out the first half. The final minute of the quarter proved a workshop on Freeman’s versatility. First he lofted a Downy-soft jumper over Cadet junior guard Jerome Hoes, whom Harrison predicts will someday be an MLB shortstop.

The next trip down the court, Freeman slashed to the basket and slammed down a man-among-boys dunk reminiscent of a LeBron James high school highlight.

“I jumped, man,” Freeman says nonchalantly of his dunk that left the crowd squealing with delight. “It felt good when I landed.”

As Freeman and Wright shuffled off to the locker room, DeMatha held a nine-point lead behind Freeman’s 21 points. Although Wright had been out-dueled so far, his Cadet classmates remained in awe.

“I think Chris Wright is a man-child. He is going to be so good at Georgetown,” senior Patrick Connally says.

“MAN-CHILD!” echoes a friend seated nearby. “He is the best!”

Freeman has achieved just as lofty a status among his peers. “Austin Freeman is basically the best thing ever at DeMatha,” says a classmate with a painted but straight face. “He can jump – I think 20 feet high, maybe 25. He could basically be the best player to ever play at Georgetown.”

Freeman and Wright receive similar accolades from basketball’s professional pundits. Freeman is rated the No. 3 shooting guard by, while Wright has garnered the sixth spot in the recruiting database’s list of point guards.

“I think Georgetown has probably one of the best players in the country,” DeMatha Head Coach Mike Jones says of his senior sensation. “As much as I have enjoyed coaching him over the past four years, I think Coach Thompson is going to have a lot of fun with him,too.”

The Cadets recovered in the third, as Wright found his rhythm after returning to the floor, scoring nine points in the third quarter and clamping down on defense to hold Freeman scoreless.

The fourth quarter belonged to the deeper Stags, however, as junior guard Kenny Tate, who has drawn attention from Virginia Tech football recruiters for his prowess as a safety, forced Wright out of his comfort zone. The future Hoya finished just 8-of-26 in shot attempts. Wright finished the night with 25 points, but his remarkable streak of nine consecutive 30-point games is snapped. As the final seconds tick down, Freeman clutches the ball at mid-court, his Stags 64-51 victors in the final meeting between two cross-town foes who have grown to be friends through their rivalry.

“It’s tough – they are very good friends and very good competitors, very strong competitors,” Wright’s father, Orlando, says. “It’s always a challenging match-up for both these guys, ’cause they respect each other so much.”

As of now, the next time these two take the court together will be at the Garden in April as members of the 2007 Jordan Brand all-American team, the first of many contests to come for these two schoolboy superstars.

“We’re good friends and hopefully we can bring our games next year to Georgetown,”

Wright says. “I think our games kind of complement each other pretty well, and I think everything will flow pretty easily next year.”

Wright’s steady shot should blend with Freeman’s slicing style to create the perfect backcourt harmony for Thompson teams to come. While their games remain distinctive from one another, their postgame interviews are eerily similar.

“Our games complement each other, like he said,” Freeman says softly, gesturing to his teammate to be standing across the hallway. “I think it will be fun – lots of fun.”

“He’s very excited, he’s ready – academically, socially,” Wright’s father adds. “He’s really looking forward to playing with Austin.”

Judging by the number of “We Are Georgetown” shirts dotting the Gallaudet grandstands Friday night, one could say the excitement about the pair’s future on the Hilltop goes both ways.

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