College athletes come and go. Most stay for just four years, and few become professionals, but one constant remains: the college they attended. Students can only say they go to Georgetown for just four years, but they call themselves Hoyas for life.

The first time I saw Hollis Thompson away from Verizon Center, he was walking across Red Square.

It was Dec. 2, the day after his buzzer-beating three-pointer — seen live around the world on ESPN2 — had sealed unranked Georgetown’s improbable win at then-No. 12 Alabama.

In that moment, and in many others during his three-year Georgetown career, he was a hero. Fans all over the country knew his name — although many still figured he was related to our beloved coach — and he knew it.

But Hollis wasn’t walking to Yates with a gym bag over his shoulder; he was walking to class. Beneath the stardom and the heroics, he was just another student. I felt connected to an athlete, and therefore to a team, like I never had before.

I got that same feeling the time I attempted to steal a grilled cheese I hadn’t ordered from the Leo’s Diner. As I grabbed it, a voice behind me said, “That for Nate?” I turned around and stood transfixed as Nate Lubick took the basket — the name Nate clearly written on the slip — out of my hands and walked away.

For the vast majority of sports fans, superstars like LeBron James are just a combination of labels. James is a Miami Heat forward, a multimillionaire, three-time NBA MVP and  the best basketball player on the planet. But in forgoing a college basketball career for the glory and riches of the NBA, he abandoned an opportunity of being part of a lasting tradition and student community.

It is encounters like those at Leo’s and Red Square that we can tell our families and friends about, run-ins that most people never get to experience. To others, these athletes are just icons, but we are privileged to know them as more than that.

And that sense of pride and closeness goes beyond men’s basketball. In my first year at Georgetown, I witnessed the women’s cross country team win a national championship, the football team embark on a Cinderella run to its best record since 1999, the women’s lacrosse team fall a goal away from shocking the nation in the Big East tournament and the men’s lacrosse team earn its 23rd consecutive winning season under Head Coach Dave Urick.

These performers were all students as well: I had class with them, ate with them and saw them all over campus. Even without the cameras, they gained student support through their success.

In the same way, the women’s basketball program will survive without former Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, who left for Auburn this spring after unprecedented success at Georgetown. Her former assistant and new Head Coach Keith Brown, is already working to keep the Hoyas’ impressive recruiting pipeline flowing.

In the end, though, everything begins and ends with the men’s basketball team. This year I saw how sports dreams can be fleeting. There is no free agency, no draft and no trading in college sports; recruiting is all we have.

For a little while, ignoring logical reasoning, I began to think top recruit Nerlens Noel was coming to Georgetown. It certainly would have made sophomore year more exciting. But Noel was going to be a one-and-done anyway, a superstar who cast a shadow larger than the institution itself. He would have been more similar to James than Thompson — never just another student.

If there’s one thing to be taken from Georgetown’s surprising run to the third round of the NCAA tournament, it’s this: John Thompson III’s Hoyas will always be about the team and not the individuals.

With the additions of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Brandon Bolden and Bradley Hayes — not to mention the return of young stars like Otto Porter and Greg Whittington — I see no reason why the Blue and Gray can’t surprise again in 2013 and beyond.

Nerlens Noel, and Georgetown’s success this season, teach us a valuable lesson. If college sports are truly about supporting your school, no one athlete is greater than the team and certainly no athlete is greater than the school.

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to the next three years on the Hilltop.

Arik Parnass is a freshman in the College and a deputy sports editor for The Hoya.

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