Friends, basketball season is nearly at hand. Midnight Madness goes down in two weeks, and your Georgetown fighting Hoyas tip off less than a month after that. You know what's even better? This year might actually be fun.
Let's be honest: while basketball usually is a pleasant diversion, the last few years haven't been that way. Things started to turn sour with the slow, now persistent drumbeat of early exits from the NCAA tournament. Redemption appeared to be on its way with the 2011 arrival of a stellar five-member recruiting class, but they never really took the floor together. First, Tyler Adams was revealed to have a heart condition that ended his collegiate career almost before it began. Then, Greg Whittington, a star in the making, was exiled from the court for academic reasons in the middle of a breakout season. Otto Porter rightly departed early for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season, but was not replaced by Whittington, who stayed sidelined with injury before being banished for the program because of his own misconduct. The absences continued last season when a reclamation project, Josh(ua? Are we still doing this?) Smith, like Whittington, couldn't keep his grades up and so sat out most of last season.
Things have been similarly dreary off the court. First, Big East football programs started chasing dollars promised by other conferences. While some of those defections were shrug-worthy (Remember West Virginia to the Big XII? Remember Pitt, period?), Syracuse's departure to the ACC stung, and Louisville's bolt down the same path ensured that the Big East would have to be remade, stat. That meant a new TV deal with a new sports network, Fox Sports 1, that sometimes struggled with low production values, mediocre analysts, and flagging ratings--in other words, in ways that weren't entirely surprising for a fledgling operation.
Last season seemed like one long, heavy sigh for the Hoyas. There was the looming specter of Whittington and Smith's WTFs. JT3 and staff's inability to recruit a damn guard left the Hoyas with just three scholarship backcourt players. That gap in the rotation was magnified by limited and inconsistent small forward options. Worst of all was a trio of veteran big men that, having failed to develop any consistent skills at Big Man U, confined their box score contributions to the personal foul column. On offense, Georgetown's spacing ranged between claustrophobic and suffocating, while the defense regressed badly from the elite units of the two seasons gone by. A grim campaign sputtered to a close with an embarrassing Big East Tournament loss against DePaul and a one-sided defeat in the NIT.
Now that we have that out of the way, hope is here! An energetic staff that has put together a terrific incoming recruiting class and the foundation of another strong group for 2015. On campus, the program is stronger than ever, as work has begun on a state-of-the-art training facility that will keep pace with Georgetown's competitors. The new Big East is a work in progress but, importantly, continues to haul in highly rated prospects, has enlisted professional management (a relief from the clown college that hastened the old Big East's demise), and won't be subject to the convulsions of football-animated conference realignment. JT3 has scheduled around the new Big East, building in difficult non-conference tests and high-profile early-season tournaments.
But the main reason to be excited is that this team is going to be fun. What's fun you say? Well, do you like a bucket-filling lead guard who could drop 30 in any given game (and, at this rate, maybe in a half)? How about a gargantuan human down low who breaks the will of entire opposing front lines? Or maybe you would prefer to take your pick from a stable of long-armed, athletic wings who could bury a three or soar for a rim-rattling dunk?
You don't have to choose! They're all there. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera will be a beast, coming off a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 17.6 points per game, just short of the highest-scoring output of the JT3 era. DSR improved on every aspect of his game last year, and as a junior may well be the conference played of the year. Jabril Trawick bounced back from a broken jaw and errant jumper to average more than 11 points per game and 38 percent from three during last season's back half, adding crucial perimeter skill to his nasty rim runs. And Smith is eligible, on campus, and reportedly in passable condition, raising the possibility that he'll destroy defenses in the paint.
Between those guards and Smith in the post will be the vaunted freshmen. LJ Peak's outbursts at Kenner League raised expectations that he'll be a true scorer who plays with the mania of Trawick and the .gif-worthy theatrics of Aaron Bowen. Isaac Copeland and Paul White can play either forward position (something no member of last year's Hoyas could do), bringing length and skill that should open up the offense and shore up the defense. Copeland, the five-star gem of the class, has game-changing athleticism, while White figures to distribute the rock and appear in close proximity to terms like "high IQ," "intangibles," and "smooth." Tre Campbell is a speedy guard who can get up and down if JT3 continues to roll out the press we've seen in larger doses over the past two seasons.
With those reinforcements on the wing and in the front court, other returning players can focus on what they do best. Bowen should be able to finish plays with his boundless energy and athleticism, rather than being asked to create plays off the bounce. Reggie Cameron should have breathing room to snipe from the perimeter rather than struggling to generate that space for himself. And Mikael Hopkins can return to protecting and finishing at the rim instead of initiating offense from the post.
The schedule also offers plenty of excitement. The non-conference slate features a test against highly ranked Kansas, a dimmer-switch worthy showdown against Indiana, and three days in paradise at the Battle 4 Atlantis, beginning with a clash against Florida. Georgetown will enter conference play battle-tested and ready for a Big East that looks wide open after Villanova. (I know, I know, the home schedule sucks. Also, winter is cold.)
We'll take a deeper dive into each of these elements as the season draws nearer. For now, let's just savor the possibility that, after years of turmoil, this season might be fun.