Sophomore Class Poised to Break Out
Looking to bounce back after the worst season in his tenure as head coach, John Thompson III acknowledged that he put too much pressure on last year’s sophomore class and looks to buoy expectations with this group of second-years.
However, as much as Thompson and the team want to manage expectations, the difference between middling in the standings of the Big East and challenging for first place could be the performance of these very sophomores.
Forward Marcus Derrickson, center Jessie Govan and guard Kaleb Johnson may very well end up anchoring a deep Georgetown team and, despite having just one season under their belts, certainly have the talent and potential to do so.
Derrickson, a 6-foot-7 forward from Bowie, Md., surprised fans and pundits alike when he was named a starter in last season’s opener against Radford. Throughout the season, Derrickson made his mark shooting the three and rebounding in the paint, ranking second on the team in three-point field goal percentage and third on the team in rebounds, shooting 37.6 percent from deep and grabbing 4.5 rebounds per game.
“There wasn’t any pressure,” Derrickson said with regards to starting as a freshman. “It was just going out there playing, doing what you do every day in practice. The coaches felt confident in starting me, so I went out there and played. It was more like a learning experience because there were many ups and downs last year.”
Offseason speculation across the Georgetown fanbase has produced rumors of a faster style of play that emphasizes guard play and pushing the ball in transition, a style of play that would highlight the unique strengths of the current sophomores.
“We’re going to run this year, and the big guys are going to have to run, too. So I need to make sure I can keep up with these guys,” Govan said.
With graduate student center Bradley Hayes out for the first four games of the season due to NCAA eligibility restrictions, Govan will likely start in his absence as a defensive presence in the paint. The sophomore center also starts this season with some NBA Draft stock after being named the No. 31 overall prospect by DraftExpress.
Named to the All-Big East Freshman Team after an impressive rookie campaign, Govan also offers the ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting. He finished the season shooting 14-of-28 on three-point attempts and 48 percent from the field overall. Govan was also a force on the other end, blocking 33 shots, which ranked first on the team.
As the projected starting center for at least the first four games, he needs to space the floor for his teammates with his outside shooting and to be a strong communicator like Hayes if the Hoyas’ defense is going to improve from its dismal performance last season, finishing 80th in defensive efficiency per KenPom.
“The biggest thing is not taking plays off. Every team we play is going to be good. Every team is going to have a chance to beat us. So we want to come out on our Ps and Qs every game, every minute and not have any of the mental mistakes that can prevent us from winning,” Govan said.
A big focus for the sophomore center, especially in the beginning of the season, needs to be his conditioning. Govan tended to show a lack of hustle at points last season and has to be more consistently engaged this season if Georgetown is to reach its potential as a team.
“I am seeing more effort in Jessie,” Thompson said. “He’s still got a ways to go but he’s getting there.”
While Derrickson and Govan saw a plenty of court time and exposure last year, the player who has garnered the most attention on the team this offseason is guard Kaleb Johnson, who stands at 6-foot-6 and hails from Martinsville, Va.
Appearing in 32 games last season, Johnson averaged just 11.2 minutes per game as a defensive role player. However, his offseason growth and performance in the Kenner League this summer has made him the talk of the team.
“Kaleb’s really improved. He might be the most improved player on the team from last year,” Govan said.
“I think with him, it just his comfort level,” Thompson said of Johnson’s offseason improvement. “We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways, but offensively he’s much more comfortable. Last year his presence was defense last year, but this year he’s settled down a little bit. He’s calmed down a little bit. He’s a lot more comfortable and confident out there. He’s playing as well as anybody.”
Thompson alluded to a much larger role for Johnson this year, even comparing him to former Georgetown forward and current NBA player Otto Porter.
Like Porter, Johnson looks to spend increased time in the frontcourt this season, taking advantage of his ability to guard forwards on defense and capitalizing on his speed and agility on offense.
“I may play more of the forward spot as well,” Johnson said. “I’ve put on some weight and tried to improve my spot-up shooting.”
In what looks to be a crowded backcourt this season with junior guards Tre Campbell and L.J. Peak, transfer guard Jonathan Mulmore and freshman guard Jagan Mosely, Johnson could move up the depth chart — in addition to seeing more playing time at both forward spots — with his defensive versatility and improved offensive game.
Nevertheless, regardless of playing time distribution, across the board, the sophomore class has all the tools to be one of the strongest components of a revamped Hoya squad.
“We’re ready, we’re hungry. We came in last year, and we all played a fair amount of minutes. This year, we’ve got a year under our belts.” Govan said. “We’re really excited. We’re trying to make some noise this year.”