Georgetown basketball: Focusing on Notre Dame as seniors are honored


Georgetown will honor seniors Jason Clark, above and Henry Sims during Monday night’s visit by Notre Dame to Verizon Center. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)
February 26, 2012

The Georgetown men’s basketball program will commemorate Jason Clark and Henry Sims’s four years on the Hilltop on Monday night.

But Coach John Thompson III has made it clear he wants everyone’s focus to be forward, not in the rearview.

“I don’t want to stop and reflect on what Jason and Henry have done right now,” Thompson said moments after the No. 9 Hoyas’ victory over Villanova on Saturday. “Because they don’t need to be reflecting on it; they need to be reflecting on Notre Dame.”

Much will be at stake for both the Hoyas and Fighting Irish at Verizon Center. Georgetown (21-6, 11-5) and No. 20 Notre Dame (20-9, 12-4) each have clinched a first-round bye in next month’s Big East tournament. But a bigger prize — a top-four seed and the double-bye into the quarterfinals that comes with it — remains up for grabs. No. 2 Syracuse and No. 10 Marquette are the only teams to have clinched one.

The Hoyas are coming off one of their most complete wins of the season, 67-46 over skidding Villanova. It was their fourth-best defensive performance — they held the Wildcats to 28 percent shooting — and, for the first time this season, five Hoyas grabbed at least six rebounds.

Notre Dame, meantime, figures to be agitated after its nine-game winning streak was snapped by sub-.500 St. John’s on Saturday. The balanced Fighting Irish shot 4 for 31 from beyond the arc, and the Red Storm limited leading scorer Jerian Grant to two points on 1-for-9 shooting.

“I don’t necessarily think there was any one thing that slowed down Grant or slowed down their shooting, I just think that they missed,” Thompson said Sunday in a conference call with reporters.

Monday’s game also matches two top candidates for Big East coach of the year. Thompson has never won the award; Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has earned the honor three times (2007, ’08 and ’11).

A strong case can be made for both.

With 10 freshmen and sophomores, the Hoyas were picked in the preseason to finish 10th in a vote of the league’s coaches. Instead, they’ve won 21 or more games for the sixth time in Thompson’s eight-year tenure and, according to projections, could receive a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Fighting Irish were voted in the preseason to finish ninth. After their best player, Tim Abromaitis, suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, even that seemed optimistic. Like the Hoyas, they’ve surprised observers and are third in the conference standings.

“At the end of the day, the [preseason] rankings don’t really mean anything,” Thompson said.

It remains unclear whether Georgetown’s starting point guard Markel Starks will play against the Fighting Irish. Starks, who is averaging 7.8 points and 1.6 assists, did not play Saturday, one game after disregarding Thompson’s instructions in the closing moments of the Hoyas’ 73-55 loss at Seton Hall.

“We’ll decide once we get there,” Thompson said.

As for reminiscing about Clark and Sims, Thompson relented a bit Sunday.

“Henry is someone who has epitomized growth, epitomized the collegiate experience, in that who you are as a young man ready to go out into the world as a senior is much different than who you are walking into the door,” he said of Sims, who, in his first season as a starter, is averaging 11.3 points per game, or more than triple his scoring output as a junior.

Thompson praised Clark’s work ethic and tenacity. The three-year starter ranks 22nd on Georgetown’s scoring list and, with 1,293 points, could crack the top 20. His 177 steals rank 14th.

“From Day One, he has probably won just about every sprint we’ve had in practice,” Thompson said of Clark. “For most of his career he’s been in the shadows but at the same time was a very strong, dominant force in those shadows.”

There are plenty of story lines to follow. Just don’t expect the seniors looking back on their careers to be one of them.

“I’m just thinking of it as another game,” Clark said. “I’m not going to reflect. Coach said we’re not going to reflect until the last game when we have to take off our jerseys and never put it on again.”

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