Georgetown Has Lost Its Street Cred, But Does it Matter?Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 17th, 2012
Once upon a time the Georgetown Hoyas struck fear in the hearts of any opposing player or fan who dared step into their path. With all due respect to Kid Rock, the Hoyas were the original American bad asses, exuding their bad-assness one rejection at a time.
For a generation, with centers and centerpieces like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and Othella Harrington, Georgetown protected the rim with ferocious tenacity. The thing that resonated most about Georgetown then was that their thirst for physical domination appeared to be personal and satisfying. Whether at home or on the road, they took pleasure in the pain they delivered, playing the game with a collective scowl and a knowing smirk.
People either loved Georgetown or hated them.
Then there was the group that repped the Hoyas because it was the cool thing to do. At the same time Georgetown basketball was a phenomenon. Beyond tangible. Even the word, “Hoya”, seemed to illicit some force of nature that had the power to overwhelm. They played with attitude and with a frenzied rage but seemed to be having fun at the same time. Michael Jordan probably pioneered the crossover appeal between sports and entertainment, but that was more due to his exploits and innovation on the court than his personality or background off of it. The Hoyas fused the relationship between college basketball and hip-hop culture. They had swagger. They had Allen Iverson. Everyone else had uniforms and sweats, Georgetown had gear.
The fact that Georgetown could care less about image made it all work. They left that to the media, fans, and rap videos. Just kept bruising and winning. Yesterday’s Hoyas were molded in the image of their head coach, John Thompson. Stern and stoic, Thompson got more accomplished with a look than most could with an instruction manual. Like his players on the court, Thompson’s presence on the sideline was palpable. He knew he had the intimidation factor working. Like a savvy catcher handling a fireballer, Thompson did not discourage a hard one up-and-in every once and awhile. He had just enough control to be dangerous and Georgetown was Goliath to everyone else’s David. Except, in true form, the Hoyas wrote their own script and David got swatted out of the gym on most occasions.
Where for art thou Hoya Paranoia? With John Thompson’s son, John Thompson III at the helm, today’s Hoyas, like yesterday’s, are also molded in their coach’s image. The younger Thompson is an Ivy Leaguer, playing four years and coaching another nine at Princeton. To say the least Princeton has historically played a different brand of basketball than Georgetown squads of the 80s and 90s, and is not exactly the team most emulated on the playgrounds of America’s inner cities.
However, Princeton has enjoyed plenty of success over the years doing it their way. Thompson III was not involved with the game but who could forget the 1989 NCAA tournament where #16 seed Princeton almost pulled off the ultimate shocker against number one seed Georgetown before falling 50–49? Fittingly Alonzo Mourning preserved the win by blocking both of Princeton’s game winning bids, his sixth and seventh rejections of the contest.
Thompson III brought with him to Georgetown a more technical approach that is, let’s face it, is less appealing to a mix tape, highlight-driven culture. Further, Thompson III’s Hoyas do not provide the same level of intimidation as their predecessors. One of the things that has not changed, however, is the level of talent, particularly that of the big men who have come through. It’s just that Thompson III has brought in a different brand of big men. Multi-faceted players as comfortable away from the basket as they are near it, with the ability make precision passes and mid-range shots. Players such as Jeff Green, Greg Monroe, and, currently, Henry Sims. These guys are more Baryshnikov than Barksdale, with their games based more on finesse than brute force.
Ok, so Georgetown is not as hyped with the kids these days and they no longer feed on the fruits of intimidation. Is that a concern? Has any of it negatively impacted the things that really count such as their performance on the court and ability to recruit? As far as recruiting, the Hoyas have not lagged at all. They continue to attract a high level of talent as evidenced by their current freshman class, which was ranked eighteenth nationally by Rivals.com. In terms of overall record, if you throw out the Craig Esherick years (because, well, do I really need to explain that to you?), Thompson III’s and his father’s winning percentages at Georgetown are strikingly similar, with Thompson III’s actually a smidge higher at the moment (.695 to .691).
Yes, Thompson III has coached only one-third of the games his father did, but he is in his eighth year which more than enough of a sample size here. In all fairness, Esherick did OK, winning at a .581 clip. He just was not head coach material perhaps as he did not meet the Georgetown standard and the program declined too quickly under his watch. If anything, this speaks more to what John Thompson III was able to accomplish as he inherited a sub .500 team and delivered 19, 23, 30, and 28 wins respectively in his first four years on the job.
The post-season is where the separation lies and where the style and image intangibles may come into play.
The elder Thompson has a 32-15 NCAA tournament record with a national title, three total Final Fours and another four trips to the Elite Eight. Thompson III is 7-5 in NCAA tournament play with Georgetown. Four of those wins came in a 2007 Final Four run. On the positive side, it was the Final Four. On the negative, Georgetown has won just a single NCAA tournament game since going one-and-done the last two years.
In a demanding tournament format like the NCAA any edge, perceived or otherwise, is magnified. When the old school Hoyas stepped on the floor, they had one. Sure, they were the team everyone was gunning for, but seemed to embrace it as a challenge as opposed to looking past a seemingly inferior opponent. The fact that Georgetown was rooted in defense and rebounding made them a tough out. Sometimes the shots do not fall but you can bring the “D” every night. Because of this even when they were tested (see Princeton) they were able to avoid upsets. The new age Hoyas are more prone to getting clipped as they do not possess the pre-packaged psychological edge while still having the big names on the front, and backs, of their uniforms that everyone wants a piece of. While they have been athletic and more than solid defensively over the years, the margin between victory and defeat in the NCAA tournament is so small the awe factor could have represented the difference.
This year’s Georgetown team may not have the appeal of Hoyas’ past, but they are primed to shed the NCAA blues and make a tourney run. They are second in the conference in scoring defense (58.9 points per game) and scoring margin (+11.7), third in rebounding margin (+5.5), and fifth in blocked shots (4.9 per game).
As far as John Thompson III is concerned, winning is everything, image is nothing.