A LOOK BACK AT THE GREAT CLASS OF 2008
Aug. 6, 2008
WE ARE GEORGETOWN!
WE ARE GEORGETOWN!! When introduced as Head Coach in Riggs' Library in April 2004, Coach John Thompson III proclaimed those words. They have since become a mantra for the renaissance of Georgetown basketball during his tenure! Yet, when he spoke them, Thompson could well have been a voice crying in the wilderness, given the then-state of the program.
In April 2004, Georgetown was coming off a losing season and, for the first time in 30 years, was not invited to a post-season tournament. They lost their final nine games and finished 4-12 in the BIG EAST. The fan base was disgruntled. Season ticket holders declined to renew and could not give away tickets for early season, non-conference games. Student engagement, similarly, waned in the wake of the crumbling Hoya program. Average attendance for Hoya home games was 8,431. The upper level of the Verizon Center was covered over for the Georgetown games to make the arena appear less empty. Petitions to President DeGioia were gathered, protests at Healy Circle were planned aimed at urging the University to embark upon a new direction in Men's Basketball. In the wake of all this, CBS analyst and ACC apologist Billy Packer proclaimed, "I see no reason why Georgetown basketball can ever be as successful as it was. There's no evidence of that. I think they need a superstar. Why would a superstar go there?"
Coach Thompson had other ideas. He spoke of a program and not a team. Referring to the "We are Georgetown" chant that he recalled from his youth, Thompson stated at his initial press conference that "it's the institution, it's the administration, it's the community, it's Washington, D.C., it's the other teams, the other members of our athletic department, it's our program." Coach Thompson then added "And a few people have forgotten that we are Georgetown, and we're going to work our tails off to remind them."
When Coach Thompson arrived, the incoming freshmen class appeared to be a good, but not necessarily great recruiting class. This group included: Roy Hibbert, a 7'02" project from Georgetown Prep; Jeff Green, a 6'09" All-Met player from Northwestern High School, who led his team to the Maryland State 4A Men's Championship; and Tyler Crawford, a 6'04" guard from Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton, Virginia, a Virginia State Group AA Co-player of the Year. Coach Thompson did convince a 6'01" guard from Harvest, Alabama, Jonathan Wallace, who had planned to play for him at Princeton, to come to the Hilltop as a walk-on. The group then began to "work their tails off," taking the baby steps necessary to rebuild the program at Georgetown.
Four years later, these young men, later aided by the incoming transfer of Patrick Ewing, Jr., are, in this writer's view, the greatest class of Men's Basketball Players ever to come through Healy Gates. The class's transformational impact on Georgetown basketball and Georgetown University cannot be overstated. During their Georgetown careers, these young men certainly put the lie to analyst Packer's flippant assertion that Georgetown could never return to its former glory. From 2004, when they arrived at a program in disarray until 2008, when they departed, "these brave men, these happy men, this band of brothers" produced an NIT quarterfinal appearance, a Sweet 16 appearance, a Final Four run after winning the NCAA Eastern Regional Championship, and finally, a second-round upset loss to Davidson. They also produced Georgetown's first back-to-back regular season BIG EAST Championships during their junior and senior years and a BIG EAST Tournament Championship in their junior year, and, for only the fourth time in the post-1972 Modern Era of Georgetown Basketball, posted an undefeated 16-0 home record in their senior year.
Overall, the 2008 squad posted a 28-6 record, which was the sixth best record in school history, surpassing even the record of the 1981-82 NCAA finalists and last year's Final Four team. Most importantly, however, each of these young men, except for Jeff Green, who left as an NBA lottery pick following his junior year, earned their B.A. degrees from the college at the May 17, 2008, graduation. Jeff Green is taking Summer School courses to complete his degree, now that the NBA season is over.
These young men's impact on Georgetown transcended success on the basketball court. Average attendance at Hoya homes games rose consistently over their four years, from 7,837 during their freshmen campaigns until this past season when an average of 12,955 fans attended Hoya home games, including three sellouts. This past year's average per game attendance increase of 2,514 over the previous season ranked Georgetown second nationally only to Southern California in terms in average attendance increases. Overall, Georgetown finished 24th in average home attendance for NCAA Division I teams during 2007-08, up from 60th from the year before they arrived. For all games, Georgetown ranked 17th in the country with total attendance of 484,930, demonstrating that, once again, seeing the Hoyas play was the thing to do and the place to be. The upper section of the Verizon Center (the 400 section), which had been closed earlier to make crowds look larger, is now the only area where new season ticket holders, including students, could hope to secure season tickets.
The on-court success of the Hoyas also produced dramatic increases in the membership and contribution levels of the Hoya Hoop Club over the past four years. In fiscal year 2004, the year before the arrival of the Great Class of 2008, the Hoop Club claimed 683 members and raised $581,861. For fiscal year 2005, membership rose to 844, and the Club raised $632,104. For the 2005-06 sophomore season of the Great Class, Hoop Club membership jumped to 1329 donors, who raised $857,473 for the program. For the 2006-07 season, when the Hoyas went to the Final Four, the Hoop Club numbered 1959 members and raised $1,671,080.93. For this, the senior season of the Great Class, as of May 7, 2008, the Hoop Club exceeded 2500 members and raised an amount of $2,018,919.
And so, as the Great Class of 2008 graduates and moves on to the NBA and new challenges in their respective lives, this writer will share some of his memories and impressions of the members of the "Greatest Class" of basketball ever in the annals of Georgetown basketball.
His Coach called him the "heart and soul" of the Hoyas, and he was a two-time Captain of the team. But he only started for a brief period at the beginning of his junior season before being sidelined by strep throat. Tyler was an extremely hard-working player and leader, who could be deadly from three-point range. He set an extraordinary example to all young players by his selfless devotion to team and Coach's system. Interestingly, he wore number 22 at Georgetown, the same number Coach Thompson wore at Princeton. And at the post-season banquet, Coach Thompson, in paying tribute to Tyler, said that Tyler was the player that Coach could envision himself working for in the future. He is extremely personable, and he graduated with a degree in Government.
Patrick Ewing, JR
Like his coach, he followed his legendary father to Georgetown and made his own indelible mark on Georgetown basketball. Transferring from Indiana, Patrick immediately brought his infectious enthusiasm and energy to the Hoyas. At games during the season he sat out under NCAA rules, Patrick was the leading cheerleader for his teammates. And when he finally could play during the 2006-07 season, his pent-up energy and competitiveness manifested itself as an "instant energy boost" for the team off the bench. He came into his own on the court as a vital sixth man during the Hoyas' stretch run to the Final Four in 2006-07. To me, his most memorable moment during his first season was his reverse, throw-down dunk over Jared Dudley of Boston College during the NCAA Tournament after Dudley questioned the Hoyas' and BIG EAST 's athleticism. When asked, Patrick responded: "I felt a little disrespected by what he said." Patrick's senior season saw him capture the first BIG EAST Sixth Man of the Year Award. He also saved the regular season victory over West Virginia in Morgantown with a spectacular, soaring, buzzer-beating block of DaSean Butler's shot for the win to break West Virginia's 15-game home court winning streak. But his most memorable senior moment may have come during the Final Four's dunk contest, when he threw down a "perfect 50" dunk with an unbelievable behind the back, between the legs move. I firmly believe that Patrick's energy, enthusiasm and athleticism will make him a solid NBA player for several years.
Patrick was selected as the 43rd pick in the 2008 NBA Draft after graduating in May with a degree in Sociology.
Few players in Georgetown history have transformed themselves so dramatically over the course of their four-year careers as Second-team All American, 7'02", center Roy Hibbert. The latest in the line of Hoya notables to wear number 55, which began with the late Tom Scates and continued through the likes of Dikembe Mutombo and Jahidi White, Big Roy came to Georgetown as a project. Through extremely hard work, especially during the Summers, Roy earned his place in the pantheon of great Hoya centers, along with Patrick Ewing, Sr., Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington, Jahidi White and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. As a freshman, Roy started 17 games and, at times, watching him run up the floor was painful. By his senior season, he was a classic low-post center, possessing the necessary footwork, moves and polish required of that demanding position. He was also a deft passer and had a sweet hook shot, which he could make consistently with either hand. Roy was often at his best when the stakes were the highest. As a sophomore, in the second round of the NCAA tournament, he dominated Ohio State and Big 10 Player of the Year Terence Dials, scoring 20 points, gathering in 14 rebounds and blocking 3 shots in only 30 minutes of play, as the Hoyas routed the favorite Buckeyes 70-52 to advance to the Sweet 16. Roy also earned Second Team All-BIG EAST honors for his efforts as a sophomore. As a junior, Roy raised his game as he was named a First Team All BIG EAST selection and a First Team BIG EAST All Tournament team. He was second nationally in field-goal shooting percentage, converting 67.1% of his shots. Down the stretch leading to the Final Four, Roy had five consecutive double-double point and rebound games and 11 double-double games overall. Returning to the Hilltop for his senior season, Roy finished his career as Georgetown's 15th all-time scorer with 1,476 points, its ninth leading rebounder with 808 caroms, its fourth leading field goal percentage shooter with a 60.3% average, and its fourth leading shot blocker with 259. Roy is also the first Hoya center to finish his career with more than 150 assists. And no one will ever forget Roy's last second three-pointer to defeat UConn.
A fan favorite for four years (the chant of "Roy, Roy, Roy" will echo forever in Hoyas' ears!); Roy possesses an amiable disposition that belies his competitive spirit. Simply put, he was an all-time Hoya great, who will enjoy a long and productive NBA career! Roy was traded to the Indiana Pacers after being selected as the 17th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by Toronto. He graduated with a degree in Government.
Jonathan Wallace arrived at Georgetown as a walk-on from Sparkman High School in Harvest, Alabama, where he had been a member of the Nation Honor Society and Student Body President. At the time, few would have guessed that by the time his collegiate career had ended, he would have started every single game for four years (136), ended his career as Georgetown's all-time leading three-point shooter (240 three-pointers on 43.4% shooting) and been one of the principal catalysts for the renaissance of Georgetown basketball. But Jonathan did just that and so much more for the Hoyas. He was Coach John Thompson III's alter ego on the floor, and he ran Coach's version of the Princeton offense with great precision. In my book, Jonathan was "money," whenever Georgetown needed a basket or a stop to staunch an opponent's surge. While most will remember Jon for his game-tying three-pointer against North Carolina in the finals of the 2007 Regionals at the Meadowlands, I will most remember the feeling of comfort that I felt whenever Jon had the ball for the Hoyas. For in those moments, I knew that we were safe from the threat of a steal or other turnover. I would love when opposing teams would attempt to pressure or double-team Jonathan, for I knew that he would find a way to get the ball up the court and trigger just the right pass to a teammate for a basket. While statistics cannot begin to tell the tale of what Jon meant for the Hoyas over the past four years, in addition to his three-point shooting prowess, Jon ended up 20th on the all-time career scoring list with 1,258 points, second on the all-time free throw percentage list at 82.0%, 8th on the all-time career assist list with 378 assists, 15th on the list of assists per game, tied for 5th with Big Roy for games played with 136, third for games started with 136, and fifth for minutes played with 4155. Jon was extraordinarily efficient - - he knew just what was necessary on the court at any given moment. He was, quite simply, a joy to watch playing basketball!
This paragraph on Jeff Green is parenthetical because, as we all know, Jeff did not graduate with the Class of 2008. Rather, following his Junior year, when he earned, among other things, BIG EAST Player of the Year, BIG EAST Tournament MVP, Meadowlands Regional MVP awards, Jeff declared for the NBA draft and played this past season for the Seattle Sonics, where he was named to the NBA's first-team All-Rookie team. But no discussion of the Class of 2008 is complete without considering Jeff, one of the top five players in Georgetown basketball history. He possessed an extraordinary will to win and would often put the team on his back to do so. My most vivid memories of Jeff filling this role were the final six minutes of the regular season game against Pitt at Verizon Center when neither team appeared especially interested in winning the game, the entire BIG EAST Tournament game against Notre Dame his final season when he, almost single-handedly, carried the Hoyas to victory over a determined Notre Dame team, and finally his entire body of work during the 2007 NCAA tournament when he played as if a man possessed in leading the Hoyas to the Final Four. In my book, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams are still one and two on the all-time great Hoya list, but thereafter, one could make the case for Jeff Green for any of the succeeding positions on the list. And though he will technically earn his Georgetown degree in 2009 or shortly thereafter, Jeff Green will always be a member of the Great Class of 2008!!
WE ARE GEORGETOWN!!