One month ago, I resurfaced from my off-season hermitage to ponder a few interesting tidbits in Georgetown's basketball. I go back underground for a month and Georgetown has a handful of developments on the roster and the coaching staff for next season. So let's dive into them, with buy, sell, or hold as our gimmick:
Where we were: Last month, we were fresh off of Georgetown's worst season in the John Thompson III era. We were pondering Georgetown president Jack DiGioia's statement of support of JT3. We were dissecting Georgetown's recruiting prospects for the coming season and beyond. Junior college guard Jonathan Mulmore, a unique addition in the JT3 era, had committed to Georgetown, while graduate transfer guard Rodney Pryor had visited. Finally, recruits were mentioning JT3's promise to change his style of play.
Where we are: Six weeks later, Pryor has committed to play for Georgetown next season, his last of college eligibility. Senior center Bradley Hayes somehow obtained a hardship waiver to play another year on the Hilltop. Two of JT3's assistants, Kevin Sutton and Tavaras Hardy, have left Georgetown to join new incoming staffs at Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, respectively. And Georgetown hired two replacements, Anthony Solomon from Notre Dame and Akbar Waheed from Hofstra. What do we think about these developments?
1. Rodney Pryor Commits to Georgetown
Background: Georgetown is losing just D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera from last season, but DSR was a big part of a thin back-court. Adding Mulmore might get the Hoyas back to last season's depth, but the Hoyas would need more to improve last season's weak perimeter defense, poor perimeter athleticism, and shaky ball-handling and penetration.
News: Robert Morris guard Rodney Pryor, a capable scorer who is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, committed to Georgetown over Florida and Gonzaga. Pryor immediately ingratiated himself to the Hoya community on twitter, where he's a vocal presence:
Amen to the that bro https://t.co/sErgECxVy8— Rodney Pryor (@r_d_p11) May 24, 2016
We all make GTown a Threat! https://t.co/JYytObagnB— Rodney Pryor (@r_d_p11) May 11, 2016
Recommendation: Buy. Pryor fills a number of needs for next season. He can get buckets, something that Georgetown will need after losing DSR. He's a high-level athlete, a trait that was in short supply on the perimeter last season. He plays hard and brings a positive vibe to the Hilltop, which hopefully will rub off on teammates who too often looked like strangers on the court last year. Although not a primary ball-handler, Pryor is a secondary option who should be able to pierce opposing defenses and hit an open three. With Mulmore, Pryor, LJ Peak, Tre Campbell, Kaleb Johnson, and Jagan Mosely in the fold, Georgetown will have plenty of guard depth and improved perimeter athleticism from a year ago. The Hoyas appear to have a number of good ball handlers whose collective effect, particularly in three-guard lineups, should make up for the absence of the a true point. (For the record, I'm also buying the addition of walk-on George Muresan, for basketball reasons and for the easy jokes.)
2. Bradley Hayes returns for another season
Background: Hayes appeared to have finished his time on the Hilltop with an impressive senior season. After three years toiling in obscurity, Hayes broke out as a senior, averaging 8.7 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game. Hayes was a reliable post scorer on a team that often struggled offensively, cleaned the defensive glass, and was a happy story in a dreary season.
News: At the basketball banquet, in what should have been his farewell speech, Hayes confirmed rumblings that he had in fact obtained an NCAA waiver to play next season.
Recommendation: Hold. Before the delusionals attack me, let me start with the positives. Hayes obviously has a great work ethic, gives off good vibes, and has aged into somewhat of an elder statesman. Coming off of a bad season, it's good to have an older guy who will set the tone in multiple ways. Hayes also was a pretty good scorer and rebounder last season for a team that often came up short in both categories. On defense, although the slow-footed Hayes got torched early in the season, he improved as the year wore on from disastrous to merely below average. Finally, on a more human level, it's good to see Hayes get another season to improve and play after not seeing the court for most of three seasons.
I'm holding for two reasons. First and foremost, I'm curious to see how lineups shake out. Hayes started when he was healthy last year, which was a reasonable lineup choice, given that the other center on the roster, freshman Jessie Govan, was still finding his legs at the college level. As the season wore on, Govan played more minutes, and finished with a respectable 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Govan has a higher ceiling than Hayes: he's more skilled offensively and more mobile defensively. He's also three years younger, and so is likely to improve by a greater margin than Hayes. Govan also opens up the floor on offense, as he can step out to the perimeter to hit jumpers while Hayes mostly operates from the low block. Assuming Govan and Hayes both progress at a rate befitting their ages, Govan probably should start next year, and should get the lion's share of minutes.
Also on the lineup front, I'm slightly concerned that Hayes's return will reduce JT3's willingness to try lineups that feature Akoy Agau, Trey Mourning, or even Isaac Copeland as a small-ball center. Those lineups are at least worth trying, in order to unlock some of the quickness that's coming in on the perimeter. But I don't think we have enough evidence on the type of player Agau is or Mourning or Copeland's ability to hold up in the middle to make this a real red flag. The lineup main issue, as I view it, is whether Hayes's return keeps Govan out of the starting five.
The second reason Hayes's return gives me pause is stylistic. Last season, Hayes was an isolated scoring option, rather than a part of a fluid offense. He relied heavily on post-ups that took a lot of collective effort to set up and basically only yielded shots for Hayes. He was inconsistent as the big man in a pick-and-roll, didn't have much of a jumper, struggled, to put it kindly, from the high post, and barely ever passed out of the post other than directly to the nearest wing. Hayes was largely one-dimensional last season, and that needs to change in the coming year. Hopefully, a year of actual playing time and another off-season in the gym will yield a better passer who also will be able to function better away from the basket in pick-and-roll situations or in the high post, if we're still trying that next year. He doesn't need to be Greg Monroe, but just being able to integrate his game into a team offense would be a huge boost.
The issue of Hayes's fit also carries over to the defensive end of the floor, where he was a mixed bag. He was a stalwart defensive rebounder, but early on was a disaster protecting the paint. He bit on pump fakes, took bad angles defensively, and fouled way too often. Some of Hayes's struggles were as much to be blamed on Georgetown's guards, who let guards into the lane at will. He improved somewhat as the season wore on, but still was slow and ground-bound. He has to take a big step forward in his final season.
More options and more bodies generally are a good thing, and Hayes has specific strengths that any team can use, whether in large dose or small. But until we have a better sense of how many minutes Hayes will play and how he will be used, I'm reserving judgment.
3. The Coaching Carousel Spins
Background: Georgetown's three assistant coaches had remained the same for the past three seasons, two of which ended without an NCAA Tournament appearance. Recruiting, where assistant coaches are the point men, had been generally strong for those three seasons. However, Georgetown continued to struggle to recruit guards, whiffing on a number of four- and five-star prospects. On the court, Georgetown regressed on both ends of the floor, particularly on defense.
News: First, assistant Kevin Sutton left Georgetown for Kevin Stallings's new staff at Pitt. Three weeks later, erstwhile colleague Tavaras Hardy departed the Hilltop to join Josh Pastner at Georgia Tech. Ten days after that, Hofstra assistant Akbar Waheed joined JT3's staff, and just over one week ago, Anthony Solomon left Notre Dame to become a Hoya.
Recommendation: Buy. These moves strengthen the Georgetown staff's recruiting connections to the DMV area and broaden the type of Xs and Os that JT3 might draw up next season and beyond.
Let's take a quick look at the outgoing coaches. Hardy was an import from Chicago, where he grew up before playing and coaching at Northwestern. He seemed to be energetic and likable, but his natural recruiting base wasn't the same as Georgetown's. Of course, it's great to expand your recruiting footprint, but pulling kids from the Midwest, away from several Big Ten schools and more, was difficult. Sutton was well-respected as a program builder for his success coaching prep powerhouses but was pretty quiet on the recruiting front, being linked to eventual de-commit Noah Dickerson but not much else. Both seem to be well-regarded and landed on their feet, but there's not much to indicate that these departures should be viewed as losses for Georgetown.
The replacements would appear to amplify the Georgetown staff's strengths while shoring up a weakness. The lower-profile of the two additions, Waheed is a product of Gonzaga College High School in D.C., the alma mater of none other than JT3. As a coach, Waheed has recruited well, including in the District, and has a reputation as a strong communicator and developer of talent.
Solomon is a veteran coach, assisting for ten years at Notre Dame and running a rebuilding St. Bonaventure program for four seasons. He has a track record of recruiting guards, particularly at Notre Dame, which has transformed over the past few seasons from the eye-gouging burn offense to a ultra-efficient guard-centric attack fueled by improved back-court talent. Solomon is Virginia native with experience recruiting on the East Coast. As a head coach, he pushed the pace, running teams that finished in the top quarter of the country in pace each season. At Notre Dame, Solomon was the main recruiter for two high school studs Georgetown also is pursuing, Gonzaga's Chris Lykes and Hoya progeny Jaren Jackson Jr.
This has the making of a strong staff. All three assistants have deep local recruiting connections with a history of branching out along the East Coast. Neither Solomon nor Waheed has a Princeton connection, and each come from programs that play dissimilar styles to Georgetown, suggesting that strategic changes may be afoot. And both moves make sense in the broader context of making use of imported back-court talent for the coming season and pursuing more for the years to come.
Conclusion: To state the obvious, you can't use the off-season to win more games in the year gone by. Nothing can change the disappointment of last season, the recent three-season swoon, or the nine-season absence from the NCAA Tournament's second weekend. But an off-season can signal change and can set the stage for more wins in the season to come. Judged by that standard, these moves should hearten Georgetown fans and help the Hoyas in the future. Pryor and Mulmore should add speed and bounce to the Georgetown back-court. Solomon and Waheed will bring fresh ideas about how to use that talent and fresh faces for the recruiting trail.
There are some concerns. Assuming that the new players and coaches signify a move toward a more open, guard-oriented style of play, how does the post-centric Hayes's return fit into those plans? Who's the odd man out, with Georgetown apparently sitting at 14 scholarship players for 13 spots? (The likely answer is Mourning, who probably could drop down to being a walk-on.) With Georgetown subtracting just DSR's 35 minutes per game from last season but adding Mulmore, Pryor, Mosely, Agau, and Paul White, how is playing time going to shake out? If the Hoyas trot out three-guard lineups that maximize ball-handling and perimeter defense, what happens to the forward rotation of Isaac Copeland, Marcus Derrickson, White, Reggie Cameron, Agau, and Mourning?
But, quoth Marlo Stanfield, that sound like one of them good problems. More talent, more options, and new voices should lead to a greater chance that Georgetown maximizes its talent in the season ahead.