He looked at his two best players sitting beside him and added: “At the same time, I don’t know about you guys, but when we walked into the building today it felt a lot like when we walked into the United Center last year [during the NCAA tournament]. There was almost a comfort level, like we’ve played in a big place like this before. So you take things like that, too.”
It was late afternoon, after the Rams staved off George Washington’s second-half rally to move to 5-3, minutes before a middling Maryland team rode pop-a-shot Terrell Stoglin and senior Sean Mosley past Mike Brey’s depleted Notre Dame squad in the late game.
And it was impossible not to see the symmetry unfolding, the idea that Smart was not the only coach in search of a new niche. Look at greater Washington, clearly not your father’s college hoops landscape anymore.
George Mason got its first new coach in 14 years, hiring Paul Hewitt after Jim Larranaga left for Miami. GW hired a men’s basketball coach for the first time in 10 years, plucking Mike Lonergan out of Vermont after it fired Karl Hobbs. The biggest change of all, of course, is after 22 years, not seeing Gary Williams gritting his teeth and turning violently toward the Terrapins bench after a turnover or bad call.
Mark Turgeon on one knee, surveying his best victory yet as the Terps’ new coach, put it all in perspective.
It’s wild to think of John Thompson III, less than eight years after he took his old man’s former job at Georgetown, is the second-longest-tenured coach among major local college men’s teams.
Unless Jeff Jones — now the dean of D.C. area Division I men’s coaches in his 11th season at American — or Hewitt at Mason can win their respective conference tournaments, the Hoyas might also be the only area hope for an NCAA tournament berth. If Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark and their young teammates can play with the kind of confidence they’ve already shown during a 7-1 start, the people who picked Georgetown to finish 10th in the Big East will be rightly silenced.
The Terps, meanwhile, are at least a year away from any serious contention in the ACC — and that might be generous.
Three walk-ons played for Maryland on Sunday, and until an injured Pe’Shon Howard returns the Terps have no bona-fide point guard and, thus, no semblance of cohesion offensively. If Stoglin isn’t hitting some shot out of his ear — he dropped in a clutch three-pointer from the right wing to give him 31 points and seal the victory against Notre Dame — or someone isn’t putting back a miss underneath, it’s a crap shoot to score.