Tabula rasa — a clean slate.
When the ball tips off for the 2017-18 Georgetown men’s basketball season, it will mean more than just the start of another season — it will be a turning point in the program’s storied history.
The arrival of Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) as head coach of the Georgetown Hoyas has prompted low short-term expectations but high long-term optimism. As the national spotlight shines brightly on Ewing and his new gig, Hoya fans can only hope Ewing can deliver in his tenure as head coach what he accomplished as a player: a national championship.
After being introduced as head coach April 5, Ewing had his work cut out for him. Junior guard L.J. Peak and graduate student guard Rodney Pryor were headed to the NBA Draft, while junior forward Akoy Agau transferred to Southern Methodist University. Toward the end of the late signing period, Ewing’s critics forecasted that his recruiting inexperience would be his biggest problem.
“It’s going fine. We’re working hard,” Ewing said at Georgetown’s Media Day. “It’s funny because when I first got the job, all people talked about was recruiting, recruiting, recruiting was going to be the hardest thing. And you know recruiting is recruiting, and it has been. Dealing with people is dealing with people.”
Following the firing of former Head Coach John Thompson III, Ewing was unable to convince four-star guard Tremont Waters to recommit. However, Ewing solidified four-star forward Antwan Walker’s signing and picked up a pair of freshman three-star commitments in center Chris Sodom and guard Jahvon Blair. The Hoyas also added graduate student guard Trey Dickerson from the University of South Dakota.
Ewing’s inaugural summer of recruiting was highlighted by the late addition of four-star forward Jamarko Pickett, who decommitted from Ole Miss in July. A product of the Washington, D.C. metro area, Pickett was won over by Ewing and the assistant coaches, Robert Kirby and Louis Orr, over a former assistant coach, Kevin Broadus, at rival Maryland.
Ewing praised his two four-star freshmen, citing their ability to pick up his instructions quickly.
“They’re both still learning,” Ewing said. “We’re going to count on them to do a lot for us, especially Jamarko on the offensive end. Antwan, he’s still learning, but I think Jamarko is a little bit more advanced on the offensive end than Antwan is, but like I tell him, ‘Do all the things I want you to do, which is rebounding and playing defensive.’”
Ewing’s recruiting has continued to trend upward. During Hoya Madness, Ewing picked up a pair of 2018 commitments in four-star, top-100 forward Josh LeBlanc from Mississippi and explosive three-star point guard Mac McClung from Virginia. Orr’s connections throughout the South and Kirby’s history across the Big East have reinvigorated Georgetown’s recruiting network.
The Hoyas return three starters from last year’s squad in senior guard Jonathan Mulmore, junior forward Marcus Derrickson and junior center Jessie Govan. Sophomore guard Jagan Mosely and junior forward Kaleb Johnson also come back from last year’s rotation.
Govan will be instrumental to instituting Ewing’s quasi-pro-style offense. Govan’s unique skill set for a big man will be imperative for the Hoyas to play more up-tempo and fast-paced.
“You know I’ve put a lot on his shoulders, a lot on [Govan’s] plate. If he, as an upperclassman, if he does not step up and dominate on both ends of the court, we won’t be successful,” Ewing said.
Derrickson will also be a featured piece with his unique frame that can both punish people down low and stroke it from outside.
“Marcus is one of those guys doing an outstanding job. He’s here early, working on his game. Sometimes we have to kick him out of the gym, especially in the summertime,” Ewing said. “He’s another guy, if we are to be successful, he’s going to be another one of those guys that’s going to have to step up and have a great year.”
Despite the hype regarding Ewing, the Hoyas are projected to struggle. They were picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams according to the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, ahead of only DePaul. In The Hoya’s preseason predictions, Georgetown finishes 10th. KenPom, ESPN and Sports Illustrated have the Hoyas nationally ranked 79th, 92nd and 125th, respectively.
The team is well-aware of outsiders’ projections.
“We love it,” Mosely said.
Govan reiterated his teammate’s optimism.
“Preseason rankings don’t really mean much,” Govan said. “My freshman year, we were projected to finish second, my sophomore year we were projected to finish fourth, so it’s all about how you play in the end.”
The Hoyas’ preseason strength of schedule is also notable. Measured as the second-weakest nonconference schedule in the country, Georgetown will play 10 of its first 11 games at home. All of them, except the game against Syracuse, will be against teams outside the preseason Top 100.
Ewing stressed the need to establish a cohesive unit in nonconference play because the strength of the Big East will be enough of a test.
“Who knows how far we can go if we are successful in the Big East?” Ewing said.
(Photo: Georgetown Athletic Department)