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The JT3 Decision: What Georgetown Should Consider

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Since the DePaul loss, I have taken a break from the world of sports and social media and message boards to reflect and just take it all in. Now that I am caught up, and have made my way through all of the petitions, banners, ESPN and WaPost articles and general fanbase commentary, I have a few thoughts. Some facts, and arguments, are stronger than others; this is one fan’s attempt to mine through the noise and develop a list of those nuggets that are, and are not, important (as it relates to this school’s decision calculus).

“Georgetown will have missed three of the last four NCAA Tournaments.”

Verdict: Highly important.

I like to think that this program, during good times, should be able to qualify for the NCAA Tourney at least three out of every four years. It’s fine if one year is a bit of a transition or rebuilding year. Ideally, we’d love to be in the Dance every season, but three out of four seems reasonable, given the size of our school, our academic standards and various other impediments.

Craig Esherick was our head coach for 5.5 years. He piloted the Hoyas to the Tourney exactly once, during the 2000-01 season (we advanced to the Round of 16, in part because we were fortunate enough to face Hampton in the second round).

JTIII was on the right trajectory during his first decade on the Hilltop, but since the NBE was formed, the Hoyas have been on the outside looking in for three out of four seasons. This is something that cannot be overlooked.

“Our attendance has plummeted in the last four years.”

Verdict: Not all that significant.

The attendance stats are misleading and there are a variety of explanations as to why our numbers have steadily declined. I would argue that conference realignment is the main driver. We no longer have Syracuse, Louisville, West Virginia, Notre Dame and UConn in our conference. This creates less interest in our matchups (no offense, Creighton) and fewer opposing fans in the Verizon Center seats (probably a good thing). And while there is admittedly some correlation between the product on the court and a casual fan’s willingness to attend games, I am not of the view that JTIII’s coaching in the last few years has made as big of an impact on attendance numbers as some have suggested it has.

“JTIII is a good man who has run a clean program for 13 years.”

Verdict: Not unimportant.

Some of you will read this and nod vociferously; others will roll your eyes. I don’t think we should take for granted that JTIII has run a clean, sanctions-and-scandal-free program, nor do I think we should overlook his service as a respectable ambassador for this program and the university as a whole. At a time when Syracuse, UConn, Louisville, North Carolina, St. John’s and dozens of other schools have all been in the news for potential or actual violations, Georgetown has not. That has to mean something.

That said, being a good guy and following the rules is not a reason in and of itself to retain a coach. So, while I don’t think this factor is something that should be quickly dismissed (it definitely should not), I also don’t want to elevate it to represent the “most important thing in the world” either.

“Georgetown has not had back-to-back losing seasons since 1970-72.”

Verdict: Very significant.

As most of you are aware, the last time we had back-to-back losing seasons, we fired our coach and hired some dude named John Thompson, Jr. Since then, this program has won far more than it has lost. We are not accustomed to losing, so when it happens, we notice it. This is perhaps the biggest blemish on JTIII’s resume. Rebuilding years are understandable, but they should not last multiple seasons.

“JTIII doesn’t have the charisma or proper personality to lead this team to success.”

Verdict: Total nonsense.

JTIII has already put together several winning and successful seasons during his tenure at Georgetown. His persona hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, he is more downtrodden these days, but that’s because we’re losing and he’s not happy about it. Those of you pointing to Jay Wright (whose real name is “Jerold”, by the way) and Ed Cooley (who has only ever won ONE NCAA Tourney game despite having two NBA players, Dunn and Bentil, on his squad), as shining examples of how head coaches should “look” or “act” are searching a little too far for reasons to hate on JTIII. There are plenty of really good reasons to criticize JTIII; this is not one of them.

“Our defense is awful. JTIII hasn’t adjusted to the NCAA rules changes on defense and that is abundantly clear.”

Verdict: Probably the most significant fact that you will read.

The last four years have been so painful because our team defense – the once tried and true staple of any Georgetown basketball team – has been pretty bad. But even when we play hard and defend well, we foul, it seems, more than any other damn team in the country. These whistles have frustrated our defensive efforts, created sub-optimal lineup changes (due to foul trouble), put too many teams on the free throw line, have led to a slower and choppier product on the court, and most importantly, have caused many more losses.

In 2013-14, we ranked #341 (out of 351 schools) in the number of fouls we committed per possession (32.9%).

In 2014-15, we ranked #310 in the number of fouls we committed per possession (30.1%).

In 2015-16, we ranked #342 in the number of fouls we committed per possession (32.1%).

This season, we rank #306 in the number of fouls we commit per possession (28.9%).

In all but one of these seasons (2014-15; DePaul), we have had the worst foul rate in the Big East. This is troubling, for obvious reasons. Whereas we once thought Georgetown simply had a toxic combination of foul-happy players (read: Mikael Hopkins, Joshua Smith, Jabril Trawick, Bradley Hayes), we have, by now, discovered that our sloppy, foul-prone defense is more than a worrying trend; it reflects a systemic problem.

Perhaps the biggest indictment of JTIII concerns this stat. Why? Because he knew that this was a problem, acknowledged as much during the offseason, committed to fixing it, and has simply not been able to turn things around. We never adapted to the defensive rules changes and we continue to pay for it.

“It’s clear from the comments of some of the players that JTIII is simply unable to connect with the team.”

Verdict: A bunch of malarkey.

Newsflash: Jon Wallace and Patrick Ewing Jr. are sitting on the bench next to JTIII precisely because JTIII usually connects with his players. I couldn’t care less what Isaac Copeland thinks about JTIII because transfers usually have an axe to grind.

As for all of these unnamed sources in the ESPN article, I don’t put much stock in their comments. The team is losing and they want us to win. JTIII wants to right the ship and the players hope he can. While they may be displeased with the product on the court, the players are not exactly saying that JTIII is incapable of connecting with his team.

And not for nothing, but Jason Clark, Roy Hibbert, Reggie Cameron and others have already weighed in and said they were “disgusted” and displeased by the ESPN article.

“But the players keep playing hard for JTIII.”

Verdict: Not insignificant.

I am not one of those people who roots against Georgetown. Additional losses will not help us get a higher draft pick or make the case against JTIII that much more damning. Instead, I root like hell for these players because they continue to bust their asses despite losing games.

No matter what you think of JTIII, he certainly hasn’t “lost” this team. His guys have played hard for him consistently all season, perhaps with the exception of one or two games in Maui (which may or may not have something to do with Isaac Copeland’s fragile psyche).

Pryor and Kaleb continue to dive for loose balls, while Peak and Jagan play hard as hell every single game. These guys like playing together, continue to root and cheer for one another, and never seem to be just going through the motions. Team effort is, by itself, not a reason to keep a coach; but it’s not something to brush aside either. I DVR’ed our game against STJ and watched it on delay because (1) I have a serious problem; and (2) I wanted to root for these players to win because they continue to play hard. Good on them for keep on keeping on.

“Georgetown’s game against Villanova this Saturday will be the first time in the JTIII era in which the Hoyas play a home game that will have ZERO impact on their NCAA Tournament aspirations.”

Verdict: Significant.

Think about this for a minute. At no other point in JTIII’s long tenure on the Hilltop have the Hoyas played a completely meaningless home game (and by “meaningless” I mean that the game would not in any way impact the team’s ability to make the NCAA Tourney). Why are so many people considering staying at home against a marquee matchup against a top 5 opponent on senior day? Because the game is meaningless. Playing for a chance to qualify for the NIT is basically playing for nothing. That’s sad.

“JTIII makes millions of dollars and gets paid like a top 12 coach, but he is hardly a top 12 coach. Why doesn’t the school just divert this money to students?”

Verdict: Not all that important.

This isn’t really fair. It’s one thing to argue that he is overpaid (maybe he is), but it’s not like DeGioia is sitting around and deciding between an extra $200k for JTIII or a new chemistry lab. Rightly or wrongly, the money comes out of different budgets, and the school’s basketball budget is highly impacted by all of the Nike and sponsorship revenue. So while it’s ok to complain about JTIII’s bloated salary, there are far more important things to consider. This is a relatively minor one.

“Under JTIII’s watch, Georgetown made an appearance in the AP top ten for seven consecutive seasons.”

Verdict: Pretty darn significant.

In 2004, Georgetown’s basketball program was in bad shape. Over five years removed from Big John’s tenure, we had exactly one NCAA Tourney berth to show for Esherick’s time at the helm. Teams no longer feared us. Fast forward eight years later. From 2006 until 2013, JTIII led the Hoyas into the top ten for seven straight years, revived the program and brought us back to national prominence. The only other team to make an appearance in the top ten during every one of those years was Kansas.

I don’t want to understate the significance of this achievement. For that entire period, plus the successful 2005-06 campaign in which we did not make an appearance in the top ten, our fanbase was hopeful and often cautiously optimistic. During the regular season, we played against all comers and had the ability to beat anyone on a given night. We should not take any of that for granted.

“Georgetown has not advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in a decade.”

Verdict: Significant.

There’s no sugarcoating this one. In the last decade, all under JTIII’s watch, our only Tourney wins have come against Belmont, UMBC and Eastern Washington. As a better seed, we have lost to Davidson, Ohio, VCU, NC State, Florida Gulf Coast and Utah. There are, of course, mitigating circumstances for many of these losses (e.g. Steph Curry; Davidson inexplicably playing a home game; Austin Freeman’s diabetes; Chris Wright’s broken hand; VCU’s crazy run to the Final Four; that terrible walk that they called on DSR with a minute to go against Utah). But the fact of the matter is that JTIII clearly has not gotten it done when it matters most.

“Jay Wright bottomed out, and now he’s one of the best coaches in the country. Can’t the same thing happen to JTIII?”

Verdict: Not insignificant, but not exactly comparing apples to apples.

This is the line we often hear from Villanova friends. “Don’t worry, you guys. Things were once pretty bad for us, too, and now look at us!”

On the one hand, there is some truth to this comparison. Jay Wright, for many years at Nova, was not considered to be the greatest tactician in the world (his offensive schemes were fairly predictable), and he endured two losing seasons (2002-03, when Nova went 15-16, and again during 2011-12, when Nova finished 13-19). He even had a number of early NCAA Tourney flameouts (not advancing past the second round in two straight seasons despite finishing in first place in the NBE during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns). Despite all of this, he turned things around and went on to dominate the conference and win a national championship.

Can JTIII do the same? I don’t know, but I will say that the offensive rules changes really benefitted Villanova, which has invested heavily in players who can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Nova’s smallish lineups include guys who can dribble, drive and shoot from beyond the arc. Georgetown’s lineups are not built the same way; as much as the offensive rules changes helped Nova, they hurt us. And unlike JTIII, Jay Wright has never had two consecutive losing seasons.

“But JTIII has taken so many steps in the last year to try to right the ship…”

Verdict: Somewhat important.

This one cuts both ways. Many of us were heartened last offseason by so many of JTIII’s decisions to take steps that were so unorthodox for him. To wit: he hired two new assistants, one from a school with a high-powered offense (to help us transition away from our Princeton sets) and the other with local ties to the D.C. area (to make sure we never miss out on the next Josh Hart or Kris Jenkins); he brought in a graduate transfer (Rodney Pryor) and a JuCo player (Jonny Mulmore) despite his usual unwillingness to do so; he made a point of saying Georgetown would look to push the tempo and play fast; he signed Tremont Waters (exactly the type of speedy point guard Georgetown has been lacking); he acknowledged to the public that Georgetown fouls too often and doesn’t get to the line enough; and he expressed a desire to incorporate a press.

And yet, despite these changes the results have been decidedly mixed. While Pryor has been a lovely addition, and we have improved our ability to draw fouls considerably (we now shoot more free throws as a percentage of total points than anyone else in the conference), nothing else has seemed to work. We went from having a super deep team to one that is not deep at all. Two people transferred. We started the season with a modest full court press, but scrapped it before conference play even began. Despite the additions of Mulmore and Mosely, we still commit far too many turnovers and lack a legitimate point guard. While JTIII has incorporated a few new wrinkles to his traditional Princeton sets and has made more of an effort to push the ball in transition, he abandoned some of these wrinkles once we began to lose in the early part of the season.

So, how should we assess this one? Good on him for identifying the problems, but shame on him for not discovering solutions. While one could certainly argue that some of these changes, particularly revamping the offense, take more than one season before they will lead to results (and Waters isn’t even in school yet), one could also point out that as soon as we started losing games JTIII reverted to his old ways and gave up on tinkering with the offense.

“So many players have transferred away from Georgetown.”

Verdict: Not important.

I’ve never cared for this line of reasoning. While it may be true that Georgetown has had its fair share of transfers in the last few years, the number is no higher than it is at other similarly situated programs. In fact, when compared to others in the Big East, we actually have fewer transfers. When guys leave the school, it is less an indictment of JTIII and more an indication that (a) the guy isn’t receiving enough minutes; or (b) the guy just isn’t a good fit.

“No guards want to play for JTIII because guards can’t thrive in our system.”

Verdict: Somewhat important.

Under JTIII, Georgetown has developed a reputation for not putting guards into the NBA (Chris Wright being the exception). This concerns me. Rightly or wrongly, we tend to attract big men or cerebral, multi-dimensional wings to the Hilltop, but rarely do we attract gritty guards who can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim (Peak and Wright being the exceptions). This has much to do with JTIII’s focus on position-less basketball, which has more or less been discredited in recent years. When Hayes or Govan is setting the table on the perimeter, young guards in high school probably notice this and decide to pass on the Hoyas. Fairly or unfairly, this is troubling.

That said, the statement is clearly overblown, and has become something of a propaganda piece that is used against us by competing coaches. We’ve certainly had our fair share of successful guards (Wallace, Sapp, Wright, Freeman, Clark, Trawick, DSR, Peak). But there is also a bit of truth to the notion that we treat our guards differently because our system values traditional point guard play less than most other systems do.

“JTIII has been unable, for the most part, to bring talented point guards to the Hilltop.”

Verdict: Extremely important.

In case you hadn’t noticed, JTIII has only been successful with talented point guards at the helm. We need real point guards on the roster so that when plays break down and the “read and react” system runs out of time, these players can take on a more traditional facilitating or penetrating role and make plays.

Think about it. We have had three legitimate point guards in the JTIII era: Jonathan Wallace, Chris Wright and Markel Starks. When we have been successful, we have needed a reliable point guard. When we have been really successful, we have needed both a reliable point guard and a talented passing big man (Green, Hibbert, Monroe, Sims, Porter).

The formula is relatively simple, but the missing link throughout these turbulent last four years has been the absence of a true point guard. DSR, Jabril, Peak, Mulmore, Tre Campbell and Mosely are not reliable point guards; it doesn’t mean they are bad players, but they are not Big East-caliber point guards. I’m tired of trying to fit square pegs into round holes. We need a legit point guard. Want to cut down on all of these turnovers? Stop making guys like DSR and Peak bring the ball up the court and create their own shots. Find real point guards. (Side note: think how different things might have been if we had landed Nigel Williams-Goss as a transfer.)

“But wait, isn't Tremont Waters a legit point guard? What about him?”

Verdict: Somewhat important.

The Tremont Waters recruitment, and signing, has been the clearest sign yet that JTIII is committed to taking our offense to new places. He realized the need for a legitimate point guard and he found one. Now come the difficult questions. Should JTIII be given some time with Waters and other new players to implement a new system? Was it really fair to only give JTIII one season to change everything, especially when he was stuck with so many players that he recruited to play in his Princeton-y offense? Will Tremont Waters try to back out of his commitment if JTIII leaves? Does it matter?

Let’s put it this way. This is a big deal, and in light of the above realization that top-flight point guards matter, especially after all of the offensive rules changes (after all, Nova had two top point guards on the same team last year!), the little guy’s next steps will be a hot topic regardless of whether JTIII is still our coach. The only reason to consider this a “somewhat” important factor instead of a really, really important one is that JTIII’s ouster is no guarantee that Waters will leave.

All of that said, the future presence of Tremont Waters may be JTIII’s biggest selling point, and may wind up being the reason JTIII is given another chance to turn things around.

“I feel like JTIII doesn’t develop his players, especially when it comes to guards.”

Verdict: Meh.

While it’s easy to look at guys like Benimon, Macklin, Sanford, Copeland and Derrickson and suggest that JTIII and his staff have failed to develop players, I’d argue that it is pretty clear that JTIII has developed plenty of his guys, including guards, over the course of the last 13 years.

Peak has improved steadily each season, and so did Jason Clark. Hibbert went from zero to hero. Henry Sims was a revelation during his senior year. Lubick became a better passer, Jabril became a better shooter, and even Comrade Hopkins turned into a nice complementary player. This criticism is, in short, a bit unfair.

“We fail to recruit players to our system, or we fail to adjust our system to reflect the personnel.”

Verdict: Significant.

This is a fair criticism. I can never decide whether I prefer JTIII to recruit players that are better fits for his system, or simply scrap the system and recruit high-level talent. I suspect that JTIII goes both ways on this question almost every season, and this indecisiveness is kind of the problem.

Were Josh Smith or Tyler Adams or even Rodney Pryor good fits for our offense? If not, should we have changed our offense to get these guys more looks? Why does Bradley Hayes still dribble the ball at the top of the key when he is completely ineffective more than three feet from the rim? Were there better ways to make use of Copeland and Derrickson?

Have we misjudged talent or simply failed to attract the guys we wanted? I have no idea.

“We should give JTIII some time to take advantage of the new practice facility.”

Verdict: Somewhat important.

JTIII has spent the better part of a decade trying to secure funding for this building. I know this, because I’ve heard his pitch several times. We owe a lot to JTIII and his father for helping to make this happen. The facility is beautiful. No longer do we have third-rate locker rooms and practice courts.

Coach Thompson has had exactly one season to take advantage of the new facilities and the recruiting advantage that should follow. In that short period, he has reeled in Tremont Waters. So there’s a part of me that would like to see what JTIII can do now that he finally has the facilities he has craved for so long.

On the other hand, it’s just a building. And it already has the Thompson name on it. As much as we should be grateful for JTIII’s role in pushing the administration and donors to provide funding, we also shouldn’t talk about this issue any more than we need to.

“Even when JTIII was successful, he was using Esherick’s recruits.”

Verdict: Pure applesauce.

I’ll give a high five to anyone who thinks Craig Esherick would have taken those same players to a Sweet Sixteen and Final Four in back to back seasons. And then I’ll punch that person in the face.

Jeff Green was born to play in JTIII’s system. Jeff Green became a lottery pick because of JTIII’s system. And Roy Hibbert went from a guy who couldn’t even run up and down the court to a dude who became a first round draft pick and a defensive stalwart. I’m done with this.

“Our players are soft, or simply not mentally tough.”

Verdict: Not insignificant.

We’ve heard what players from Marquette and DePaul think about our mental toughness. And we know that Chris Mack has said our guys fold after getting punched in the mouth. Fair or unfair, we have developed a reputation as being soft, and the results bear this out. Every time we play one of the so-called “tough” teams in the conference, we lose. We’ve lost four in a row to Seton Hall, six in a row to Providence and six out of the last seven against Xavier. (Yes, those numbers appear to be right.) Either we recruit guys to our program who are not mentally “tough” enough, or our players are not taught to play with a chip on their shoulders. Either way, it’s on JTIII to figure it out, and he hasn’t.

“But I still feel like we can beat any team on a given night….”

Verdict: Somewhat important.

We beat the best teams and lose to the mediocre teams (except for Syracuse). That’s just how we do. Take a look at this season. With the exception of the losses to Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Providence and at Creighton, we’ve won every other game, or at least had a chance to win every other game in the last two minutes or overtime. Check out the close losses: Butler, Xavier twice, at Nova, Maryland, Arkansas State, DePaul, at STJ, Seton Hall twice. If we win half of the toss-up games, maybe even fewer, we’re going to the Tournament.

Is this meaningful? I guess it’s nice to be competitive in almost every game, and it certainly feels good to keep beating up on Syracuse. But at the end of the day, we need to win. Look at Esherick’s 2001-02 campaign and count the number of close losses, or don’t. This season reminds me of that season.

“But who are we going to find as our next coach?”

Verdict: Somewhat important.

Our program has some advantages (location, practice facility, recruiting hotbed, tradition, alumni success in the NBA) and some drawbacks (lack of money, the role of the Thompson family, academic standards, no on-campus arena). I have long been in the “be careful what you wish for” camp. Our options to replace JTIII will be limited, and we wouldn’t want to settle for a guy with no college or head coaching experience. We’d need someone who can demonstrate a proven record of recruiting, coaching and winning at the college level. Easy to find? No. Impossible? Certainly not. At some point, this handy excuse should not serve as a full-on barrier to change. But still…be careful what you wish for.

“JTIII has handled everything with class and grace. He is an ideal ambassador for our program and the university.”

Verdict: Not insignificant.

Most would agree that JTIII is a fabulous human being. He has always handled himself, including during the hard times, with an exceptional amount of grace. This is precisely what makes this entire conversation so freaking hard. We want JTIII to win and we appreciate how much he cares for this team. For so long many of us have said that the best possible outcome is for Georgetown to succeed with JTIII at the helm. I’m just not sure how much longer we can wait.

It’s worth remembering, by the way, that when students called for Craig Esherick to be fired, Esh was combative and said he wasn’t going anywhere for 30 years. JTIII has saluted the very same fanbase that is calling for his head and then reaffirmed his dedication to the program. There’s no doubting that JTIII cares. He wants to fix this as much as anyone.

I want so badly for this team to have an improbable run through the Big East Tourney because JTIII, and we, so desperately deserve it.

“JTIII’s teams have won four of the last five against Syracuse.”

Verdict: Somewhat important.

On the one hand, there’s probably no need to unnecessarily glorify a handful of wins against a mediocre ACC team. On the other hand, it’s Syracuse, and these wins have basically been the highlights of our seasons. Each of those wins was majestic and thoroughly enjoyable; and the lone loss, during the BET semifinals in 2013, shouldn’t have even been a loss (for real, look at the whistle in overtime against Markel that caused him to foul out and change the whole trajectory of the game once we lost our point guard).

These wins have been sweet.

So what does all of this mean?

I have not, and will probably never, root for JTIII to be fired. I’m not going to sign any petitions, bring banners to games or call the athletic office. It’s just not in my nature to do so. But I also don’t begrudge anyone who feels like they need to have their voices heard. You do you. It’s still a free country (until it’s not).

I did not think JTIII should have been fired at the end of last season. I believed, firmly, that the 7+ years of restoring this program’s reputation and giving us a reason to believe again, entitled him to a pass after his first losing season. And I was thrilled to see all of the offseason adjustments. But now that we are in the middle of a second consecutive losing season, I agree that it’s time for JTIII, Pops, Lee Reed and Jack DeGioia to take a long look in the mirror and think things through carefully.

As many have pointed out, it’s awfully hard to separate the Thompson brand (which I continue to appreciate and respect) from the Georgetown basketball program; and any decision to remove JTIII will undoubtedly involve removing his father as well.

I do not believe JTIII will be fired. He will either resign, or he will deliver a brutally honest assessment of the last two seasons and say he’s going to find a way to turn things around, and the administration will give him one more year to do it.

I do not believe JTIII deserves one more season at the helm, but I still desperately cling to the belief that a successful basketball team with JTIII as the coach is what’s best for this program. And I continue to root like hell for us to win…