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The Education of Henry Sims

Big Hank.
Big Hank.

"Youth is wasted on the young." - George Bernard Shaw

"#casualhoya bestfriend charges $4.99 a month to his credit card #loneliness" - Henry Sims, 2010

"Last year, Henry enjoyed college a little too much." - John Thompson III

"[My mom] basically told me that I wouldn't be in college forever. It was my last year so make it worth it." - Henry Sims, 2012

As Henry Sims gets ready for life beyond the Hilltop (which, from the looks of it, will involve some degree of professional basketball), it's a good time to look back at his years at Georgetown. On the surface, Sims's experience at Georgetown bears little resemblance to most of ours. Few of us approach seven feet in height, and not many more can do anything of note on a basketball court. Sure, we slugged out pick-up games in Yates, and may have even enjoyed a moment of intramural glory or two. But no one was paying our tuition to hoist mid-range jumpers, and few if any of us, however irregularly, could elicit a gasp with a rim-rattling dunk or terrifying block.

But chart the course of big Hank's time on campus, and the differences between him and the average student shrink. Like most youngsters who make their way to the Hilltop, Sims showed a lot of promise in high school. While most Georgetown freshmen previously have distinguished themselves in the classroom, Sims set himself apart on the court, where his size, athleticism, and touch hinted at almost limitless potential.

More appreciation of big Hank after the Jump.

Once on the Hilltop, though, Henry didn't exactly push the outer limits of his abilities. Not unlike many of his peers, he found that there was a lot more fun to be had in the absence of adult supervision, whether it was goofing off around campus, making a surprise campaign for student government, or entertaining the masses on twitter. And, just as many of our collegiate academic records suggested at worst indifference and at best unfulfilled potential, Sims scuffled through three years in the blue and gray as a perennial bench-warmer.

All this isn't to say that Sims was unlikeable. Quite the contrary: his extreme likeability, whether as a towel-waving reserve or as a prolific tweeter, made me, at least, mostly forgive his shortcomings on the court. Better, certainly, than the marginal prospect who sulks through two seasons on the pine, then, in transferring, disparages the program on his way out. Still, through his junior year, he left barely any memories as a player, particularly against good competition.

His lack of development had on-court consequences. In Hank's sophomore year, Greg Monroe and Julian Vaughn formed a solid front line, but a thin bench was made still thinner by Sims's seeming regression from the year before. After Monroe's departure, Vaughn dragged himself through a senior year in which he was visibly worn down by too many minutes against too many opposing bigs. And the other post position was left to a motley crew of players that weren't actually posts (Hollis Thompson), probably weren't yet ready to contribute full-time (Nate Lubick), and, well, however you categorize Jerrelle Benimon.

These lineup problems were left unsolved by Sims, who puttered along in his development, remaining a spot player as a sophomore before finally becoming a role player as a junior. While he had progressed by that third year, becoming a better passer and maintaining decent production in increased minutes, Sims largely had failed to turn the tantalizing descriptors that always followed him-promise, potential, upside-into reality. The 2010-11 season resulted in more lasting off-court memories (one, his GUSA vice presidential bid) than on-court ones (zero).

And so it was that, after Vaughn's departure last summer, the starting center slot didn't exactly seem filled. At first glance, Sims's competition wasn't great: Moses Ayegba had scant collegiate experience and not much polish, while other options involved untested freshmen, small-ball lineups, or both. But Moses showed a glimmer or two in Kenner League, and, given his previous project status, at minimum seemed to be developing faster than Sims. Since a youth movement was afoot with the rest of the lineup, why not let Sims continue to wave the towel while investing in the team's future?

Ayegba's torn ACL mooted any argument for keeping Sims on the pine, putting the senior in the lineup by default. That damning qualifier-the Hoyas basically couldn't have started anyone else in the middle-made the subsequent revelation of a senior season all the more surprising.

In retrospect, there were hints that Sims v.4 wouldn't be the same as earlier iterations. Kenner League enthusiasts saw routine double-figure outputs from Henry in 2011. While cynics could point to previous big games by Sims in summer league, he followed up with impressive showings in China as well. Preseason interviews were peppered with references to Henry's improvement and dedication to off-season workouts with onetime Hoya great and new Hoya assistant Othella Harrington. Perhaps, like many so many Georgetown students who realize that beyond senior year lies the rest of their lives, Sims finally had dedicated himself on the court. Still, Hoya fans still had little idea what to expect from a player who had scored in double figures just three times in as many seasons.

Thankfully, they didn't have to wait long. Sims went to work straight from the season's opening tip, notching an easily-career-high 19 points against Savannah State while matching personal records in assists (5) and blocks (3). As stunning as this point total was the way in which Sims scored, moving confidently through the post and in the mid-range. That was just a taste of what was to come, as he abused a much more talented (though similarly undersized) opponent a few games later, overpowering Memphis for 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. Time and again the young Hoyas turned to Sims in clutch time of a game that Georgetown eventually pulled out in overtime. That faith paid off, as Sims showed off physicality, aggressiveness, and offensive fluidity that he had scarcely hinted at in seasons gone by. A young man who had produced little lasting impression in three years had cemented himself as the team's anchor in one afternoon.

A remarkably solid senior season followed. Sims was third on the team in scoring, second in rebounding, and, in a statistical hint that his game is as quirky as his personality, first in both assists and blocks. While there were no more regular season explosions to rival the Memphis game, Sims left his mark, scoring in double figures sixteen more times, notching his first career double-double in an otherwise dreary win over Rutgers, and facilitating an increasingly stingy defense. Offensively, Sims became the hub around which the Hoya attack frequently ran, as Henry comfortably operated from the high post or down low, threading passes to teammates cutting to the hoop or spotting up on the perimeter. On defense, Sims's lane-clogging dominance was on full display, appropriately enough, on Senior Night, when he preemptively exacted revenge for Jack Cooley's subsequent receipt of the Big East Most Improved Player award by holding the Heir of Harangody to one basket and no rebounds in a Hoya rout of Notre Dame.

Remnants of Sims's early-career struggles remained, as he sometimes got pushed around too easily, had trouble finishing at the rim (e.g., his woeful 1-12 FG at Syracuse), and too easily turned the ball over and got in foul trouble. But even factoring in these weaknesses, Sims far exceeded expectations for a season in which there were roughly none. After years of accomplishing little, Sims was the celebrated prodigal son of Hoya hoops.

Sims left his mark on the Hoya post-season as well. He rattled off a pair of double-doubles in Madison Square Garden, dominating Pitt's front line en route to an easy victory, then battling Yancy Gates into two extra sessions in a heart-breaking loss. Sims was equally responsible for the Hoya collapse and resilience against the Bearcats. He committed a last-minute turnover in regulation and, in overtime, missed two critical free-throws; either opportunity, properly converted, might have won the Hoyas the game. But then, given another chance, Sims redeemed himself, finding an open Otto Porter for an overtime-forcing jumper, then ensuring double OT with a swooping layup that just beat the horn.

In the Big Dance, Sims gave the Hoyas a steady performance in a convincing win over upstart Belmont, but then met disaster. While the young Hoyas had thrived on length, quickness, and activity throughout the year, cleaning the glass, contesting every shot, and protecting the rim, they met their match against N.C. State. Sims was unnerved early on, collecting two early offensive fouls limiting his minutes thereafter. He got involved in the belated comeback, scoring his only four points in the closing minute to draw the Hoyas within one. But with the chance to tie the game, Sims couldn't get adequate post position and kicked the ball out to Porter, who hoisted an errant jumper that pretty much spelled the end of the season.

Unthinkable a year ago, Sims now seems destined for the NBA, or close to it. His massive frame and unique skills have impressed in pre-draft showings, and his senior leap suggests that his potential still lies beyond what he has accomplished. That p-word proved dangerous for much of his college career, but Sims's redoubled effort this past year appears to be the sign of more good things to come.

Sims leaves a mixed but ultimately redemptive legacy. The affection for the good-natured, bench-warming youngster, previously tempered by the regret at his failure to progress, was reborn this year thanks to his sudden, dramatic improvement. While Sims was already liked as a person, his transformative senior season left Hoya fans with memories of his on-court accomplishments as well.

I sometimes wondered whether he could have progressed more earlier in his career (probably) and, if so, whether he might have filled some lineup gaps in previous years (maybe) or whether he could have been even better this season, leading Georgetown just one or two more rounds (who knows). But nearly every season ends before we're ready, leaving the choice of ruing what might have been or appreciating what was. There is so much to like about Sims, and about what he accomplished this past season, that I'm inclined to choose the latter course. So, without reservation, I can say that Henry Sims is a good kid, and we wish him well.