Projected NBA draft picks are generally told what to expect once they hear their names called by Commissioner David Stern, walk across the stage at Madison Square Garden and begin their lives as professional athletes.

 

The pace of play is said to be faster, the game more physical, and the skill level and talent better than in anywhere else in the world. The 82-game season is more demanding than any college experience, and there is intense travel, rigorous physical training and many team obligations.

 

 

 

Jeff Green expected many of these things after being selected fifth in the 2007 draft. One thing he did not foresee: a new nickname, especially one given to him by LeBron James.

 

 

 

According to the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron first dubbed Green “Uncle Jeff” during the summer of 2007 when Green played for the U.S. Select Team, which practiced against the national team in its preparations for the Beijing Olympics. James used it to describe his hardworking style of play, and after mentioning it on a national TNT broadcast, the nickname caught fire.

 

 

 

“Uncle Jeff” left Georgetown after his junior year for the NBA on the heels of a Big East championship season and a Final Four appearance – the first for the Hoyas since 1985. Drafted by the Boston Celtics and immediately traded to the Seattle SuperSonics, he is now a starting forward for the relocated Sonics franchise in Oklahoma City.

 

 

 

Looking back on the experience, Green recalls when he first walked onto an NBA court and how quickly the changes came.

 

 

 

“[The NBA] is a lot more intense. You’re competing against guys like LeBron and Kobe, who are the best in this game, and that’s who you want to be,” Green said. “So you simply have to pick up your workouts and [your play].”

 

 

 

Green is one of four Georgetown players under Head Coach John Thompson III to be drafted into the NBA. Seven-foot-two center Roy Hibbert was drafted 17th in the 2008 draft by the Toronto Raptors – and dealt to the Indiana Pacers in the Jermaine O’Neal trade – and this year, forward DaJuan Summers left Georgetown after his junior season and was drafted 35th by the Detroit Pistons. Patrick Ewing Jr. was drafted 43rd by the Sacramento Kings in the 2008 draft, but has been hampered by injuries and has yet to make a regular season NBA roster.

 

 

 

In addition to the changes and challenges faced by college basketball players who are lucky enough to secure a spot on an NBA team, Georgetown players under Thompson play in the unique Princeton-style offense, a complex system of spacing, cutting and passing that is often unlike the faster-paced, pick-and-roll sets common in the NBA.

 

 

 

Yet, coaches and players alike cite a unique arsenal of experience among Georgetown players, particularly the versatility demanded by the Princeton offense and experience in the rugged competition of the Big East, as excellent sources of preparation.

 

**When Green arrived** at his first NBA practice, former Seattle SuperSonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo saw something he liked.

 

 

 

“Jeff comes in, I think, a lot more complete [of a] player than usually you get [with] a guy coming out of college,” Carlesimo told reporters in July 2007. “I think that’s a result of . the program that he was in at Georgetown and [Thompson’s] coaching. Secondly, the way they play at Georgetown is great preparation. His ball skills are way above average. For a guy who’s as talented as Jeff, as big and has played inside, he handles the ball very, very well, particularly his passing. I think he’s had a great preparation for the NBA.”

 

 

 

Green said it took him some time to get used to the physical play of the NBA, but he felt Georgetown had prepared him well to be a versatile contributor for the Thunder. Green averaged 10.5 points per game on 42 percent shooting and 4.7 rebounds per game in his rookie season, but he improved to 16.5 points per game on 44 percent shooting along with 6.7 rebounds per game in his second season.

 

 

 

“In the NBA, there is a lot more freedom on the court, and I’m able to do different things with my game,” Green said. “But I think Georgetown prepared me in a small way for this transition as far as being on the perimeter a lot more [in the Princeton offense] and really helped me out in getting comfortable handling the ball.”

 

 

 

Thompson recalls one of Green’s first practices at Georgetown as a time when he made it clear that his vision for Green and for the program centered on versatility. But he stressed that his offense focuses on making the most out of his players’ skills.

 

 

 

“The emphasis we place on skill level is [something you see when] you have Jeff Green, who comes in as a back-to-the-basket center in high school, who’s never ventured outside of the lane. And at one of Jeff’s first workouts I said, `Jeff, I want you to stand at the top of the key. And shoot.’ And Jeff said, `Me?’ `Yeah, you.’ But the fact that the emphasis is on skill level helps prepare them.”

 

 

 

Thompson said he believes reads are most essential in preparing any player for the next level – reading defenses and making decisions accordingly.

 

 

 

“The way that we play teaches you to make decisions, and make reads, as opposed to just running a series of plays,” Thompson said.

 

 

 

While the Pacers play a much faster-paced, run-and-gun style under Head Coach Jim O’Brien, Hibbert said he finds his role as the starting center to be not all that dissimilar from the one he played at Georgetown.

 

 

 

“[Coach O’Brien and Coach Thompson] teach a lot of the same things and they expect a lot of the same things. They expect me to be the big man and to be the anchor of the defense,” Hibbert said. “They do a lot of the same things in different ways, one with the Princeton offense and one with a faster-paced offense.”

Hibbert highlighted the pace of play as his biggest challenge in acclimating to the NBA game.

 

 

 

“It’s just a matter of learning to play at this level,” Hibbert said. “It takes time, and the coaches know that. But when you’re on the court, the game moves so quickly and you have to get used to that.”

 

 

 

Thompson told The Washington Post the day after the 2008 draft that he believed it was important for Hibbert to enter an organization led by one of the NBA’s all-time greats, Larry Bird. Bird serves as the Pacers’ president of basketball operations.

 

 

 

“If there’s anyone in basketball that understands that you can be a terrific player and not be a runner and jumper, it’s Larry Bird,” Thompson said.

 

 

 

Hibbert, often plagued by foul trouble, averaged only 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in his rookie season in little more than 14 minutes per game.

 

 

 

Bird told NBA.com in July that Hibbert’s work ethic may be what sets him apart.

 

 

 

“Roy’s one of the hardest workers we have, and any time you put the time in, you’re going to get better,” Bird said. “There’s a lot of things he has to get better with – his strength, his balance – but if he continues to do the things he’s been doing, he’s going to be a lot better.”

 

 

 

Green said that experience with the Princeton offense has helped him – and his teammates – in working within the Thunder’s system.

 

 

 

“When you’re in the Princeton offense, it’s all about spacing and knowing every position on the court,” Green said. “[Having played in this offense], I know where guys need to be on the court, and it makes it a lot easier to be a leader on the floor by directing teammates where to go.”

 

 

 

Coaches for the Detroit Pistons have similarly lauded the preparation evident in Summers’ early performances. He averaged 18 points per game and over five rebounds per game for the Pistons’ summer league team.

 

 

 

“Anytime you get a kid out of the Georgetown program, those guys know how to play,” said Pat Sullivan, an assistant coach for the Pistons, in July.

 

 

 

“He’s just a basketball player. He’s been coached real well, I can tell you that,” added Darrell Walker, the Pistons’ summer league coach.

 

 

 

Summers declined to comment for this story.

 

 

 

The Hoyas’ current center, Greg Monroe, was faced with the NBA question after his Big East rookie of the year campaign. Although projected to be a lottery pick among many draft experts, Monroe chose to return to Georgetown for a second season.

 

 

 

Thompson said it was important for Monroe to have the preparation and the experience to be a great NBA player.

 

 

 

“[Monroe] wants to put himself in a position that once he does leave, that he’s a good pro and not just a pro,” Thompson said.

 

 

 

**DePaul Head Coach** Jerry Wainwright, who also served as the head coach for the 2007 U.S. Under-19 World Championship Team, did not mince words when describing the caliber of the Big East.

 

 

 

“This isn’t a finesse league – it’s a man’s league,” Wainwright said at Big East Media Day at Madison Square Garden.

 

 

 

“I don’t mean this in any other way than just as a cliché, but the [Big East] is a semi-pro league,” Wainwright added. “I think everybody who winds up playing will have the opportunity to play for money later on. The quality of talent in our league is certainly, I think, the best in the country.”

 

 

 

While many of the major conferences in the nation boast an excellent rate of sending their best players to the NBA, coaches praise the league’s traditionally physical style of play as best preparing its players for the next level.

 

 

 

ick Cronin, the head man at Cincinnati, pointed to the Big East’s tradition of developing talent.

 

 

 

“We’re known as a physical league, and it’s always been a players’ league,” Cronin said. “The Big East has always hung its hat on great players, from Allen Iverson to Patrick Ewing. . But the Big East has always been a players’ league.”

 

 

 

Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino, the former coach of the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, singled out the importance of mental preparation in the NBA.

 

 

 

“I think the mental toughness needed to play in the Big East, the physical toughness necessary in the Big East, really helps [players] get ready for the NBA because when they leave Pittsburgh and they leave Georgetown . they’re mentally tough kids because of the competition being so keen and the fact that you’re playing in cities that have professional teams and where every media person is not a cheerleader,” Pitino said.

 

 

 

Upon reflection, Green said he felt the Big East toughened him to play against the most physical players in the NBA, the power forwards he called the “pounders” of the league. At the same time, he described the NBA as an entirely different animal.

 

 

 

“In the NBA, you’re just not the biggest guy on the court anymore. But playing in the Big East with all that heavy contact, being bruised up, and playing against some of the best teams in college basketball – it does prepare you well,” Green said.

 

 

 

“However, I play the four position [for the Thunder], which is a hard position to guard because there are a lot of guys that are bigger and stronger than you,” he added.

 

 

 

Hibbert cited Big East play in helping him get used to absorbing contact in the post, but he said the physicality of the NBA is on another level.

 

 

 

This year, the Big East may not match last year’s record conference performance. Two teams – Connecticut and Villanova – made the Final Four, five Big East teams made the Sweet Sixteen, and three programs were No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

While Thompson said this year might not top last season’ s mark, he stressed that 2008-2009 was not an aberration for the conference.

 

 

 

“The league will always be tough,” Thompson said. “I spoke to a group in New York the other day and I was going through how tough I thought the league was, and . hopefully I’ll be sitting here 10 years from now and I’ll be saying the same thing.”

 

 

 

**Hibbert says he** is enjoying his time as a Pacer, but he admitted that the pro life does come with some stress, he said, even beyond battling Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan in the post.

 

 

 

One challenge is traveling. And it is not the on-the-court variety.

 

 

 

“[The traveling] is really demanding. At first I thought I could just deal with it, [having] come back from Big East games and having to write a paper or study for an exam at Georgetown throughout the night,” Hibbert said. “But college has nothing on the NBA [and] an 82-game season.”

 

 

 

Green noted that, after two seasons, he has been forced to learn to take care of his body well in order to avoid strain near the end of the season.

 

 

 

The forward also emphasized the difference between the physical training and off-season workouts required in the NBA.

 

 

 

“[NBA workouts] are a lot more intensive. . They have to be a lot more intensive to compete against the best,” Green said.

 

 

 

The road to the NBA has been a rockier one for Ewing Jr. After being drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft, Ewing was traded to the Houston Rockets and then, in August, to the Knicks, his legendary father’s former team.

 

 

 

Ewing played in a number of preseason games for the Knicks, but was cut from the roster before regular season play began and was sent to play for the Knicks’ Developmental League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, for the 2008-2009 season.

 

 

 

In March, Ewing tore his MCL, and he has been focusing on getting back to an NBA team ever since.

 

 

 

“I’m just rehabbing, trying to get healthy. . It’s a lingering injury, and I’m just trying to get healthy so I can get my jersey up [in McDonough Gymnasium],” Ewing said, pointing to the array of professional jerseys Georgetown displays in its on-campus arena.

 

 

 

Green’s experience has been quite different, and he quickly indicated what may have been the most special part of his first two years: the opportunity to play for the U.S. Select Team and to try out for Team USA this summer in Las Vegas.

 

 

 

“It’s been amazing, especially last year, having the chance to try out for the U.S. team, a team I always wanted to play for when I was growing up,” Green said. “Just having the chance to play against those guys is special.”

 

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