With exactly zero seniors on the Georgetown roster, it may sound odd that the buzz word around McDonough Gymnasium this preseason has been experience.

Yet the 2009-2010 Hoyas are grizzled veterans compared to last year’s young team, when inexperience led to a second-half collapse and the team’s worst record under Head Coach John Thompson III. They return six contributors who went through their first Big East season last year, and their three high school All-Americans – sophomore center Greg Monroe and junior guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman – have a year of playing together under their belt.

“We have a group that really played key minutes last year. So we have a group that is not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and are up to it,” Thompson said. “We had a lot of people play some critical minutes last year and hadn’t gone through the cycle, hadn’t gone through the demands. . We have – collectively, across the board – more experience this year, and there’s no substitute for experience.”

The Hoyas took their lumps last year, losing 12 of their final 16 games and bowing out in the first round of the Big East tournament and NIT. The bitter taste from last season has left Georgetown hungry.

“We’re definitely hungry,” Wright said. “We want to prove ourselves again. We have to get that swagger back that Georgetown has and that Georgetown has had for a long time. Nothing cocky or arrogant, we just want to go out and do it.”

Questions swirled last year about the team’s chemistry and whether there was a rift in the locker room. The players have said the team has good rapport this year, and Thompson seemed to respond to the questions when he had the entire team dance a choreographed routine to Michael Jackson’s “Thiller” at Midnight Madness.

“Our team’s energy is new and different,” Thompson said. “This team has a very positive energy, and we’re just ready to get going with the season.”

Thompson and his players have identified Wright and Freeman, the most experienced juniors, as leaders on the team. They also said Monroe has taken a more active leadership role in practice and in the locker room.

“I think that the three guys that everyone is focusing on for the most part have done that. That’s Austin, Chris and Greg,” Thompson said of players who have stepped up as leaders. “It goes from last year, where they were unsure, to [now], where it’s very clear to everyone that those are the leaders on our team this year.”

Those three will also lead the team on the court as they look to return to the upper echelon of the Big East and the NCAA tournament.

Wright stepped into the role of floor general last year as a lightning-quick guard that can get into the lane and create. He led the team in assists playing in the Big East regular season for the first time. His running mate Freeman will start for the third consecutive year at shooting guard.

The entire team focused on shooting in the offseason, but Thompson identified the two starting guards, along with reserve guard Jason Clark, as the Hoyas who put in the most work.

“I think our guys are for the most part an honest group, and you can go back and critique what we did and how we did it, and at the end of the day you look and see that we got a lot of open shots that didn’t go in,” Thompson said. “We [have] got to see if we can get more of those shots to go in, and the guys have been extremely diligent with working on that.”

In addition to shooting, Thompson tabbed improved defense as a necessary component for a turnaround year.

“We weren’t as good of a defensive team last year as we had been in the past at all,” he said. “It’s a simple game: Make shots, guard your guy, make shots, guard your guy. You do those things and you’ll win.”

Monroe, who led the team in blocks and steals, will anchor the paint for the Hoyas. The preseason all-Big East selection is also the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder. A finesse player as a freshman, Monroe focused on improving his lower body strength and explosiveness in the offseason.

“Greg is very important. We go as far as he goes,” Wright said. “He’s the guy that’s going to get a lot of attention.”

The other two starting roles remain to be filled, but the Hoyas have a solid core of rotation players. Freshman guard Hollis Thompson has a jump on other newcomers after enrolling in the spring semester and practicing with the team. His coach said that the extra semester gave the rookie many advantages, from becoming comfortable with college life to understanding Georgetown basketball. On the court, Thompson’s role will be as a shooter.

Clark, a sophomore, came off the bench last year, bringing the ball up the court and providing a defensive spark. Swingman Nikita Mescheriakov started nine games last year as a redshirt freshman, though he appeared overmatched by quicker or more physical opponents at times. He struggled with his three-point shot, hitting at a 26.2 percent clip.

Forwards Henry Sims and Julian Vaughn will play a bigger role on the floor with the departure of DaJuan Summers. The big men each played less than 10 minutes per game in their first season with the Hoyas.

“They’re much more settled and comfortable on the court, which would then allow them to play and not think as much,” Thompson said of Sims and Vaughn. “Because of that, both of their confidence levels are significantly higher than they were last year.”

Sims sees the glass as his primary responsibility.

“I think last year we had rebounding issues,” the sophomore said. “So this year I hope to contribute mainly from the rebounding stand point.”

A year ago, Georgetown deftly maneuvered through a difficult non-conference slate before the Big East season. This year, Thompson has again put together a tough schedule of non-league games. The Hoyas travel to New York to play Butler on a Tuesday in December and then head to the West Coast for a game against Washington that Saturday. Thompson hopes the travel and quality of his team’s opponents – both are consensus top-25 clubs – in a five-day span will simulate a week in the Big East. The Hoyas also play host to Old Dominion in December and Duke in January.

“Our [non-conference] schedule is brutal, and that was by design and hopefully that will turn out to be the right decision,” Thompson said. “To be tested early, to be put in adverse conditions early will allow us to fight through situations and to work out some kinks. Hopefully [so] that when Big East play starts, we have the template for how we’re going to have success.”

The Big East is down from last year, when a record nine teams cracked the AP Top 25 and three teams earned No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, yet it is still tough.

“Last season going into the season we all knew this was the greatest conference ever. . This year, you don’t start with as much hype. You’ve got a lot of parity, but what is that going to mean at the end?” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said.

“The difference is starting right here today,” Thompson said. “We don’t have the four or five teams that you could say are going to be in the Final Four. But, the difference is that the teams that recently have been tiered at the bottom – those are the teams with all of the experience, with all the veterans, and those teams are going to be significantly better.”

As the Big East comes back down to earth, the Hoyas look to climb back to the top.

When asked what is going to be different this year, Chris Wright said: “We’re going to win. Simple as that. Those games that we came up short in, hopefully we come out on the other end. That’s our focus and our only focus. Everything else follows.”

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