Hollis Thompson and the Fog of Fandom

Two years ago about this time, I fretted that Greg Monroe would leave early for the NBA. That he was almost certain to do so didn't diminish my concern. I worried about Georgetown's front court, but also that, whatever Monroe's brilliance as a Hoya, he hadn't left a tournament legacy at Georgetown in the mold of his predecessors. Instead, the Hoyas hadn't won a postseason game during Monroe's time on the Hilltop.

Monroe did leave, and has looked ever better for as a pro, and in retrospect my good memories of Monroe far outweigh the Ohio loss or the 2009 debacle. But last year, the departures of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman brought the same worries. They had been valuable four-year players, giving the Hoya faithful plenty of thrills while working their way into the program's record books. Even with tenures twice that of Monroe, though, they had just a lone tournament win, as freshmen over UMBC to boot. As with Monroe, that win didn't accurately assess their contributions to Georgetown, or their merit as basketball players. But so has been our task, of figuring out how we feel about departing players with limited reference to the team's postseason marks, an exercise made more challenging by the fact that tournament success, or lack thereof, almost invariably colors any fan's measure of success.

Now comes the departure of Hollis Thompson who, like Wright, Freeman, Henry Sims, and Jason Clark, leaves with one tournament win. Unlike those teammates, Thompson's postseason performances stand in contrast to the team's record: as the rest of the team was flailing, Thompson often was surging, setting or matching his season high in each season-ending loss.

More Hollis ruminations after the Jump.

At some point, this aligned with a perception I had formed of Hollywood, either independently or as a result of these tournament defeats. Thompson always seemed, at least from my distance, to exist somewhat apart from the rest of the team. Maybe it was his arrival a semester before his classmates; his status, after transfers, as the lone member of his class; or the occasional snippet, taken out of context, that confirmed my preconceived notions. (I watched some pre-Maui special on ESPN last fall, which included an interview with the Hoyas in which several freshmen sat at one table and Hollis, alone, at another. For some reason, I was not surprised.) This isn't to say that he seemed selfish or disliked by his teammates, just that he had an independent orbit.

This thinking at times fueled cynicism. When, earlier this year, a late scoring flurry by Thompson made an already lost cause at Pitt marginally interesting, I found myself testily wondering where he had been all game. A lot of this was just confirmation bias as, having decided Thompson played best when the team was at its worst, I looked for examples. And a lot was simply beyond Hollywood's control: he can't really be blamed that the Hoyas couldn't defend the pick-and-roll in his first two tournament appearances, or that Chris Wright had a broken hand last year, or that a succession of veterans had off days just as he turned it on. Had the results been different, Thompson would have been hailed as a steely-nerved clutch performer, this year in particular providing the necessary veteran leadership to inspire a double-digit comeback. But the fact that Georgetown came up short can't really, or at least solely, be put on him.

So, the fan's psychological baggage out of the way, what will be our lingering memories of Hollis? Obviously, there's his terrific three-point shooting, which resulted in makes 43.9 percent of the time, the best in Georgetown history. (Well, unless you count Vee Sanford, Thompson's erstwhile classmate who, in a coincidental and humorous asterisk, made 15 of his 33 career three-point attempts, good for 45.5 percent.) He had a sweet, slightly pigeon-toed stroke that seemed effortless in a way that made each jumper seem well-chosen, even on an off day.

Thompson showed flashes of that marksmanship in a supporting role over the past two years, standing out even in a lineup that also included Freeman, who boasted a similarly smooth shot and a lot more attempts. With the departure of last season's seniors, Thompson would get to see the floor on a more regular basis this season, stepping up from role player to featured performer. But it almost didn't happen: Thompson surprised everyone by testing the draft waters last year, then surprised again by outplaying expectations in pre-draft workouts.

Still, he decided to come back for what JTIII has said was presumed to be his last year on campus, one in which he'd be one of the more known quantities on a team full of question marks. Hollis would be the same as in previous years, just with more time and more touches. And early on, that's just how it played out, as Thompson nailed four treys in an early "contest" against UNC-Greensboro and canned a flurry of six in a rout of N.J.I.T. About halfway through the season, he had made more than half his threes on the year. Even as regression to the mean, Big East competition, and nagging injuries took their toll on that number, Thompson still had his moments. He netted five threes, all after intermission, to help the Hoyas pull away from St. John's in the Garden, and made four big ones against Marquette in Verizon.

The last of those, of course, was his second game-winner this season, a wide-open look off of a kick-out from Henry Sims that capped the Hoyas' remarkable comeback over the Golden Eagles. His first clincher had come a few weeks prior, on the opposite wing and in somewhat different circumstances. In the waning seconds against Alabama, Georgetown was not riding the comeback wave as it would against Marquette but instead hoping to avoid collapse against the Crimson Tide. Sims, Clark, and Thompson perfectly executed a hand-off sequence that resulted in a clean, if not entirely wide-open look for Hollis, who calmly buried the game-winner. That shot, which because of the seemingly longer odds stands out even more than the Marquette winner, capped a final three minutes in which Thompson scored the Hoyas' last five points and grabbed their last three rebounds.

This seemed to be why he had returned to Georgetown. The year before, he had been willing to take the big shot, hoisting clutch shots against Missouri and Temple, neither successful. With an extra year of seasoning, he nailed both of his game-winning shots this year, and came achingly close to another chance when Henry Sims looked him off in the closing minute at Syracuse (no, I'm still not over that). For a season that revolved almost entirely around other narratives-China, the freshmen, Sims's late development, Clark's workmanlike leadership, Otto Porter not playing AAU ball, Nate Lubick being a coach's son, Markel Starks running for GUSA VP, and soon enough for Congress, even Jack tearing his doggy ACL-Thompson provided no media-friendly plot line but arguably the season's two most thrilling moments, showing of his most memorable trait in the most dramatic setting.

But there was more to like about Thompson than just his shooting: he always worked hard, and never made a fuss. At the beginning of his sophomore campaign, he put on a brave face despite being slotted laughably out of position at power forward. Later that year, he raised no complaint when moved to the bench in favor of a larger lineup. And he was an improved defender and passer and willing rebounder, seeming to raise his effort this year with the influx of new blood. He appeared to be playing through injury for much of this season, but never really mentioned it. I sometimes had the nagging feeling that he could have done more-made a play off the bounce, converted a post-up once in a while, or finished with greater authority at the rim. But losses will do that do you: any regrets about holes in his game probably would have been forgotten had the Hoyas made the tournament's second weekend. Off the court, Thompson seemed like a terrific representative of the university, if that's not too antiquated of a notion. He always said the right things in interviews, by all accounts was a hard worker in the classroom, and generally projected class and composure.

Hollis has professional prospects, though whether they're in the NBA remains to be seen. He's a lethal outside shooter, but other parts of his game need development. He hasn't demonstrated much ability to create his own shot, in large part because of his still-suspect handle (and, to be fair, in part because he played in a system that doesn't emphasize dribble penetration). And while he has good size, he is not an explosive athlete, so likely will not be a shut-down defender any more in the pros any more than he was at Georgetown. Even so, Thompson's one near-elite skill may earn him a late spot in the draft or onto an NBA roster eventually.

But that's for the draftniks to worry about. As is custom around here, I'll just conclude by saying that Hollis is a good kid, and we wish him well.

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