Georgetown has a great transition team. Yet its transition from the end of last season to the beginning of this one was rocky—even tragic. Three players, including talented Forward Anthony Jones, left school. Freshman Michael Graham had to attend a special summer program to attain a high school diploma and raise his grade point average to the required 2.0. And this fall the mothers of two players, centers Patrick Ewing (below) and Ralph Dalton, died within six weeks of one another.
"One day you're telling a kid how to post up," says Hoya Coach John Thompson, "and the next day you're talking to him about selecting a casket for his mother."
But, as Thompson adds, "Life goes on. You're still trying to get ready for a season, still trying to get ready for school, still trying to manage your emotions."
Thompson has all five starters returning from last season's 22-10 squad, plus several reserves who will demand—and get—playing time. "We go from baseline to baseline," Thompson says, "and press all game. You have to have players to do that."
It may not hurt at all that Jones has transferred to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, because it clears some of the congestion at small forward. Thompson says the only certain starters are Ewing, a junior, and Point Guard Fred Brown, who missed 15 games last year with an ailing knee; Brown is one of just two seniors on the squad. Sophomores David Wingate and Michael Jackson both made last year's Big East all-rookie team, but Jackson, a guard, will miss some early games with a dislocated shoulder. Win-gate is likely to start at shooting guard.
The Hoyas need to improve their rebounding. Though Ewing led the Big East in that department with 10.2 a game, Georgetown was outrebounded in conference play. Junior Bill Martin, who started every game last year, mostly at strong forward, may move to the other forward, allowing either the 6'11" Dalton or the 6'9" Graham to join the front-court. "Michael is an excellent natural rebounder and inside player," Thompson says. "He's also very green. If he's able to work in there simultaneously with Patrick, it will have an Ed Spriggs kind of effect. When Eddie was here Patrick's freshman year, he could get things done while people were boxing-out Patrick and leaving him free."
Georgetown's best freshman is Reggie Williams, who was regarded by many experts as last year's top high school player. Williams averaged 25.3 points and 12 rebounds a game for Dunbar High of Baltimore. "Before he's finished here, he might be the most versatile player we've ever had," Thompson says. No. 2 Point Guard Gene Smith adds, "He's 6'7" and handles the ball as well as I do."
The Hoyas haven't forgotten how to play defense. Last year opponents shot only 43.4% from the field. Defense starts with Ewing, who blocked 106 shots, forced adjustment in the trajectory of countless others and was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year for the second time.
Ewing made the Pan Am team earlier this year, although he then bowed out to take a summer-school Spanish class. A fine arts major, he promised his mother he would graduate, and he remains on schedule. Between classes and his work as a Congressional intern, Ewing kept basketball active by leading a team called 1789 to the Jabbo Kenner summer league title in Georgetown. Ewing's frontcourt teammates were Williams and Graham.
Last season Ewing scored 17.7 points a game and shot 62.9% from the field, but he should be an even more potent source this year. "I I don't think teams will have the luxury of collapsing on Ewing as they did last year," says Boston College Coach Gary Williams.
"We want to get baskets off transition," Thompson says. "Our defense is predicated on that. We press so we can run. I'm not as concerned about opponents collapsing on Patrick as much as whether we play good defense, get the ball and run. Then you don't give the other team a chance to collapse. We didn't respond well to those defenses at times last year because we weren't experienced enough with that kind of situation." The Hoyas have that experience now. And with Brown fit, Williams added to the outside arsenal and Ewing more mature, they may have an inside path to Seattle.