There I was, cracking my knuckles before writing my eulogy for last season. I would start with some self-flagellation about what went wrong last year. I would move on to existential wondering about next season and whether all of this was worth it. This being the Internet, I would foam a bit at the mouth about 7 footers standing 20 feet from the basket. One percent Shakespeare, one percent Camus, 98 percent egg-avi twitter rant, this opus could be dope or terrible.
Once I wrote it at my typically leisurely off-season pace, anyway.
But time waits for no unmotivated pseudonymous blogger, and while I was procrastinating, three things happened that made me shelve everything I'd written. First, President Jack DeGioia issued a statement expressing his support for Coach John Thompson III. Second, an update on the recruitment of one of Georgetown's primary recruiting targets included a quote from the recruit that Georgetown is planning to change its style of play. Third, the recruiting trail heated up for next season, as Georgetown snagged a commitment from a junior college guard whom staff had pursued doggedly of late and got an on-campus visit from a graduate transfer guard.
What do each of these things mean on close inspection? What can we expect for the road ahead? What's the cynical view, the delusional take, and the verdict? Let's get into it.
1. President DeGioia supports JT3
Background: You've heard this issue from both sides. JT3 has had a broadly successful tenure at Georgetown, but most of that success came quite early, and not nearly enough of it has come of late. Whether you're measuring NCAA Tournament results, in-season poll rankings, offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, recruiting, or almost anything else, the Hoyas have been sliding for a few seasons now. The Fire JT3 contingent has grown more numerous and more vocal, but we hadn't heard anything from the University about the future of the JT3 era.
News: Recently, President DeGioia responded to an inquiry from an intrepid student reporter at the Georgetown Voice with a statement supporting JT3. According to the Voice's story:
In an emailed statement to The Voice, Senior Director for Communications Rachel Pugh wrote that President DeGioia looks forward to "supporting Coach Thompson in his leadership of the team next year."
"President DeGioia's expectations remain the same--that the program will continue to represent our university with the integrity that has always characterized Georgetown: our student athletes will achieve academically, we will prepare young men for the future beyond Georgetown and that the team will be competitive on a national level," said Pugh.
Cynicism: Aside from the good work of an enterprising reporter, there's nothing to see here. DeGioia has already swept last season's failure under the rug and is looking to the future. He doesn't even acknowledge recent struggles. While he sets out some big-picture expectations, he doesn't say whether Georgetown was "competitive on a national level" last season, or has been competitive over the past three seasons, on balance. This is just a bunch of PR nonsense meant to make the issue go away.
Delusion: This is Georgetown, the public accountability of which frequently gets compared unfavorably to third-world dictatorial regimes. A statement from the university president is a sign not just of dogged journalism, but of an administration that recognizes that there's an issue. This statement was clearly crafted with care, a sign that the question posed by the reporter was taken seriously. The statement does not voice unconditional or indefinite support, but only addresses "next year." Beyond that? Who knows.
Verdict: I view this statement as good, not because it makes it more or less likely that JT3 will be fired, but because it's a sign, however small, of public accountability. DeGioia wouldn't have issued a similar statement after the Davidson loss in 2008 (nor should he have), or any of the other postseason disappointments. He's issuing it because he was asked, but also because he needs to acknowledge the team's recent struggles and the fan base's frustration. He's also looking ahead because he believes the future will be better than the recent past. The IAC will open soon, and the team probably will be better next season than last one. I don't think DeGioia's support is likely to change soon, but the fact that he feels the need to express that support, and he's not doing so in iron-clad terms, is encouraging.
2. Chris Lykes talks about Georgetown's recruitment
Background: Almost every Georgetown game last season revealed a few critical weaknesses. No more than a couple of Hoyas could penetrate into the lane to open up opportunities for themselves or others. On defense, no Hoya could stay in front of opposing lead guards. On both ends of the floor, there was a noticeable lack of energy, athleticism, and aggressiveness.
Georgetown has been trying to remedy all of those weaknesses by recruiting Lykes, a 2017 point guard that attends nearby Gonzaga College High School, which also happens to be JT3's alma mater. I'm not a recruitnik, but the summary on Lykes is that he's a mighty mite who makes up for his lack of size (5'7", plus or minus) with elite speed, athleticism, and toughness; excellent ball-handling and passing, and a good jumper. A top-100-ish prospect in his class, Lykes has no shortage of suitors, which also include Villanova, Miami, Notre Dame, and VCU.
In an update on his recruitment, Lykes said the following of Georgetown:
"They have told me that I can be a game changer for them because they are looking to change their style of play," he said. "Coach Thompson and his staff want to match the intensity of all the other big east teams in the conference. They want me to come in and be that factor that will change things for them."
Cynicism: This ship has sailed. Lykes is saying "Georgetown doesn't recruit guys who play as hard as I do and doesn't play a style that suits me. They know they need my speed, ball-handling, and guard skills, but they don't know how to use my skills with the way they play now." His statement about Georgetown is particularly damning compared to his summaries of Villanova ("Villanova is a guard school and they like to spread the floor"), Miami ("Miami runs a lot of ball screens and that is something that I really like"), and ones he made here on Notre Dame ("Coach (Mike) Brey does a lot of things for their point guards.") and VCU ("VCU is the offensive style for me, run and gun."). He can clearly see the benefits of those four programs. For Georgetown, the quote is about what he can bring to the program, not the other way around. And do we really believe change is afoot? JT3 has stuck by his archaic Princeton principles for years despite guard recruit after guard recruit expressing concern about how he'd fit into Thompson's "system." Why would he change now?
Delusion: This is a positive sign of two things. First, last season was a wake-up call. JT3 and staff recognize the problems that have been festering for a while but became obvious last season. JT3 wants high-energy athletes. He wants to play a "style of play" that suits those recruits' strengths. He and the staff at least have Lykes's ear. While not entirely convinced, Lykes isn't committing this summer, giving Georgetown more time to convince him of how its changed style will suit him.
Verdict: I have no idea whether Lykes is coming to Georgetown. Villanova and to a lesser degree Miami and Notre Dame can offer recent March success and friendly styles of play, and VCU can always sell itself to high-energy players. The Hoyas have some ground to make up stylistically. They also have to deal with the psychological factor at play with local kids, each of whom seems to have a long-standing desire to either leave D.C. for college or attend either Georgetown or Maryland. The fact that Lykes was spotted at several Hoya home games is a good sign that the staff has his ear (notwithstanding the outcome of many of those games).
This also is a good sign regardless of whether the Hoyas land Lykes. Georgetown has seen diminishing returns over the past few seasons on both ends of the floor, assembling its two worst offenses of the JT3 era in the past four seasons and two of Thompson's three worst defenses in the same span. It's good to see Georgetown targeting athletic, energetic perimeter players who are well-suited to play in a freedom-of-movement rule regime that has rendered recent Hoya squads slow-footed and foul-prone. It's also an encouraging sign that the staff views athleticism and energy as important attributes on par with size and skill.
There is some cause for broad skepticism. It's taken Thompson and staff three seasons of changed rules to finally recognize that Georgetown needs quick, athletic guards. It can take years to build and refine a new system and to recruit players that fit that system. And even assuming the Hoyas play differently starting next season and quickly land players that suit a new style, there will be an adjustment period while Villanova, Xavier, and the like push ahead with systems that have been suiting them just fine for years. Will the recruits keep coming through another down season or two of stylistic change?
Still, on balance, Georgetown's recruitment of Lykes and his recent statements about Georgetown are both good signs that Thompson and Co. recognize what's missing from recent Hoya squads and want to fix it. (It's also a good sign that after lifelong Hoya fans Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins helped power Villanova to a national title, JT3 isn't letting another local prospect go without a fight.)
3. Jonathan Mulmore commits to Georgetown and Rodney Pryor visits
Background: Georgetown appears to be losing just two players from last season's squad. One, center Bradley Hayes, has a replacement already on the squad in rising sophomore Jessie Govan. The other, guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, is graduating after starting and leading the team in scoring for three straight seasons. For better or worse, the ball was in DSR's hands a lot over the past two seasons. A roster that was already light on guards and offensively inert was not going to improve solely by adding defensive-minded 2016 guard recruit Jagan Mosely. The Hoyas needed more.
News: Mulmore, the leading junior college scorer in the country and a second-team JUCO All-American, committed to Georgetown over interest from Maryland, Ohio State, and West Virginia. Meanwhile, Robert Morris guard Rodney Pryor, a capable scorer who is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, visited campus over the past weekend and is planning visits to Florida, Gonzaga, and Kansas.
Cynicism: We're really reaching here. Georgetown hasn't recruited junior college players under JT3 because it hasn't had to do so. Mulmore is a sign of the Hoyas' ongoing recruiting weaknesses. And the Hoyas need a distributor, not another score-first guard, of which they have plenty already. Pryor is more of a wing than a lead guard, and Georgetown has plenty of players at the two through four positions. Plus, he probably will head elsewhere, as Georgetown doesn't have a great recent track record of beating out those other schools for recruits. Even if he does commit, he's only coming for one season before exhausting his eligibility.
Delusion: Mulmore and hopefully Pryor will fit in very well. They each have size for a guard (Mulmore is 6'4", Pryor is 6'5"), strength, speed, and energy. Both bring a scoring punch and play hard. While not a natural point guard, Mulmore hand handle the ball and get into the lane, two things that were missing from last season's team. A three-guard lineup featuring a combination of Mulmore, LJ Peak, Mosely, Tre Campbell, Kaleb Johnson, and Pryor would have enough perimeter skill to fuel a dynamic offense and enough size to guard three positions defensively. Mulmore, Pryor, and the freshman Mosely will both bring plenty of energy and toughness to a team that lacked both last year, and a deeper guard rotation will push everyone to improve.
Verdict: Count me in as semi-delusional on Mulmore. Last season's team had a lot of individual talent but really didn't seem to mesh very well. The defense was bad everywhere, but especially on the perimeter. The offense could be terrific or terrible depending on the day, and tended toward the latter. Mulmore will be able to replace some of what DSR did, while returning Hoyas like Peak, Isaac Copeland, and Marcus Derrickson should be ready to pick up much of the rest of the scoring slack. Particularly considering the late stage of the recruiting cycle, Mulmore is a very good and much-needed addition. I have no idea whether Pryor will commit but he would be able to help on the perimeter as well.
Zooming out, these three bits of news have brought me back a bit from the ledge. It can be tempting to think, particularly after last season, that JT3 truly has no idea what's going wrong with his own program. It's also tempting to think that the University is accountable to him, rather than the other way around. Neither transparent nor forthcoming, the coach and the administration both encourage that perception.
These three developments are small and uncertain. It's easy enough to put out a statement of support, and DeGioia may not have the desire or will to hold JT3 accountable if the team continues to struggle. Lykes may just be polite, and may already have decided to leave town for college. JT3 has lived by the Princeton offense and his tenure may die by it. Mulmore might not make a difference, Pryor may head elsewhere, and the team may sink further next season.
Despite that uncertainty, the developments generally strike me as positive. DeGioia seems to be paying attention. The staff seems eager to remedy what has ailed the past few teams. And recruits at least appear to be listening. After last season, that's a start.