Summer is a time of great possibility for college players, a several-month stretch to refine one's game and begin to earn playing time for the season ahead. We've already considered off-season opportunities for little-used reserves, intriguing if uncertain upperclassmen, and a trio of role players. Now it's time to look at the three most certain contributors for the season ahead, and the work they need to put in before Midnight Madness. Two of these players have ascended to the role of senior leaders incrementally, earning more minutes and a greater role gradually over traditional four-year careers. The third player's ascent has been more rapid, the product largely of his team's needs and the absence of a higher-profile teammate.
- What he did last season. Found consistency, for the most part. Starks was not quite ready to contribute as a freshman and, despite a significant step forward as a sophomore, still was maddeningly inconsistent, eventually being relegated to the bench in favor of the rising Otto Porter. So it was heartening to see Starks make yet another leap as a junior, scoring in double digits in 14 of 19 games after Greg Whittington's suspension and leading the team in three-pointers made and assists. Starks achieved new steadiness largely in the shadow of Porter, whose superlative season rightly stole most of the headlines.
- How he'll fit in next season. As the #1 option. Without Whittington yet again, Georgetown will be searching for options on offense. Some of that replacement production will come from those who take Greg's minutes, but some will come from greater usage by players at other positions. Starks is the Hoyas' leading returning scorer and assist man; given his marked improvement in each of the past two off-seasons, another leap forward may be in order for the coming season.
- What he needs to do in the off-season. Hit the weights. Starks has gradually become a more complete player, improving his jumper in year two and again in year three, refining his passing last season, and committing to defense as a junior as well. Still, Starks's rebounding figures remain as slight as his 6'2", 175 lb. frame. On a team on which everyone will have to do a little more, Starks must hit the boards, both for the direct benefits in the form of extra possessions, but also for the influence the senior's extra effort will have on his younger teammates. He also must pack on the physical strength to be able to create space in the lane with the ball, both to be able to finish effectively and to kick the ball to open teammates, and to continue to improve his defense.
- What he did last season. Focused less on what he couldn't do, and more on what he could. In his first two seasons, Lubick received playing time by default, getting burn only when other options (remember Hollis Thompson, power forward?) proved inadequate. Given plenty of minutes without much seasoning, Lubick took some time to find his proper role, hoisting ill-advised jumpers and lingering too long on the perimeter. As a junior, Lubick got more time, particularly when Whittington's absence shortened the rotation, and the coach's son gravitated toward his strengths, namely rebounding, positional defense, unselfishly facilitating the offense, and occasionally scoring.
- How he'll fit in next season. As something between an overqualified glue guy and a third option. Lubick is unlikely to enjoy a Henry Sims-like surge in his senior season, suddenly becoming a focal point of the team's scoring and passing. Yet, Lubick was the Hoyas' second-leading assist man last season, and became an effective finisher around the basket. A bit more passing and scoring is a reasonable expectation for this coming season. The way in which Lubick is most likely to mimic Sims is as the vocal leader of the defense, directing rotations and exhorting his teammates. With several other variables in Georgetown's rotation next season--Josh Smith's eligibility; Mikael Hopkins's development; Jabril Trawick's jumper; the small forward chasm--Lubick may see his role expand and contract throughout the season as circumstances dictate.
- What he needs to do in the off-season. Develop a mid-range jumper, and continue to get in better shape. Lubick likely will see considerable time with Hopkins or Smith, neither of whom has shown much of a face-up game to date. To avoid floor spacing issues that choked Georgetown's two-post lineups last season, Lubick must keep his defender honest by hitting jumpers when he's in the high post and in the short corner. While Nate's jump-shooting improved as a junior, he must iron out the painful hitches in his form and punish sagging defenders. He also must be strong and lean enough to anchor a Hoya defense that has some question marks on the front line: Whittington and Porter, last season's two best defenders, are not available, leaving a hole at small forward, and Smith, Bradley Hayes, and Reggie Cameron all figure to have weaknesses on defense end.
- What he did last season. Answered the bell. DSR burst onto the scene in his first full game as a Hoya, burying four threes and 19 points total in a win over Liberty. While Smith Rivera's debut cemented his reputation as a scorer, the rest of his game took some time to catch up, as blown defensive rotations and inconsistent effort limited the freshman's time during non-conference play. But, as with so many other Hoyas, DSR's role was redefined without Whittington. The young guard received more playing time almost by default and immediately rewarded that trust, hitting the boards, committing to defense, and occasionally exploding on offense.
- How he'll fit in next season. Probably as the second scoring option. DSR may be in for a Otto Porter-(very)-lite sophomore campaign. As a freshman, Smith-Rivera averaged 8.9 points and 3 rebounds in about 25 minutes per game, all lesser figures than Porter's 9.7, 6.8, and 29.7 minutes in his first season. Otto's progress as a sophomore, particularly as a scorer, outpaced his increase in playing time, the natural outgrowth of a year's worth of seasoning and hard work. Smith-Rivera is not Porter, but should get additional minutes this coming season and, like Otto, will benefit from heavy playing time as a freshman. A modest jump for DSR--say, to 12 points and 5 rebounds--seems within reach.
- What he needs to do in the off-season. See the floor, and watch film. After Smith-Rivera ironed out some early shooting and defensive woes, his most glaring weakness remained as a play-maker. While Starks and Lubick likely will remain the team's primary play-makers, Smith-Rivera must create more opportunities for his teammates, particularly Hoyas who specialize as spot-up shooters (Reggie Cameron, Stephen Domingo) or finishers (Aaron Bowen, insert Hoya big man here). Opposing defenses increasingly will shade toward Smith-Rivera to account for his scoring prowess, and he must be prepared to make those defenses pay for leaving his teammates open.