One Local Remains Absent From BB& T

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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 5, 2005

The only local Division I men's basketball team not playing in today's 11th annual BB&T Classic is the one that calls host MCI Center its home court: Georgetown. The Hoyas' conspicuous absence is the latest chapter in the relationship between the school and the event, a history that at best has been fruitless and at its worst has been contentious.

Georgetown has never played in the event, which has until this year been a four-team, two-day competition. (Navy and Howard will play in the first game of the tripleheader, followed by American and George Mason.) Discussions with the Hoyas about playing in this year's tournament never moved past the initial stages. The Hoyas turned down offers to play Texas, George Washington and Holy Cross, but Georgetown Coach John Thompson III suggested some major conference teams he was willing to face.

"We walked away with the feeling that if we could come up with an opponent that made sense to me and made sense to them, we were going to be in it," Thompson said.

"We felt like this was the tail wagging the dog," tournament founder Pete Teeley said. "It was not amenable to us."

Organizers of the event, which benefits the Children's Charities Foundation, had difficulties this year convincing major conference teams to give up two home games in order to play. The solution was to turn it into an entirely local event. When that happened, Georgetown wasn't even considered, said Teeley.

Thompson was willing to play Maryland. But tournament officials honor Maryland's refusal to face Georgetown at MCI Center unless the Hoyas also agree to play a game in College Park. Georgetown and Maryland have played only one regular season game in the past 26 seasons; in 1993, the Terps beat the Hoyas, 84-83, in overtime in Landover.

"We played them at their place, the old USAir Arena, the last time we played in the regular season," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "So if they want to play, it would have to be here."

The great irony is the tournament was founded by Teeley and regular Post contributor John Feinstein; the initial idea was to anchor the field with Georgetown and Maryland, and then bring in two teams with national name recognition.

Williams and Maryland immediately agreed to participate. Attempts to directly contact then-Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. were unsuccessful, according to Feinstein and Teeley. Thompson sent word through Mary Fenlon, his assistant, that the Hoyas were not interested in participating. So George Washington was brought aboard instead.

Former Georgetown coach Craig Esherick, the successor to Thompson Jr., expressed an interest in playing in the tournament, Teeley said, but negotiations never got beyond the initial stages. Thompson III replaced Esherick in April 2004, and he met with Teeley and two other representatives from the tournament at Georgetown last season. (Feinstein, who has had a mercurial relationship with Georgetown dating from his days as a Post staff writer, was not at the meeting.)

"There has been some history -- apparently -- between Georgetown and the BB&T," said Thompson, who coached Princeton in the 2001 event. "Initially, right away, I told them I don't care about what has happened in the past. I have already taken a team to play in the BB&T. I'm well aware of the good that the tournament does, and I'm not opposed to playing in it."

But there have been no further discussions between Georgetown and tournament officials.

"If Georgetown could come in in a way that is satisfactory for everybody, that would be great," Teeley said. "We'd sell 18-19,000 tickets. But they have not been here in the past, and we've still distributed more than $6 million to charity."

Next year, the tournament will return to its previous arrangement -- Maryland, George Washington and two national teams -- though it likely will remain a one-day event. Feinstein said that he has lined up an oral commitment from Notre Dame.

Teeley said BB&T, the tournament sponsor, prefers a national format because it has greater prestige. So does Williams, who said he agreed to this year's all-local approach "to keep the tournament going."

That won't satisfy area fans hoping to see the Hoyas play Maryland, which hasn't happened since an NCAA tournament second-round game in 2001, or George Washington, which hasn't happened since the 1981-82 season.

"It'd probably be like a big rivalry. They're so close to each other," said DeMatha junior guard Austin Freeman, who has made an oral commitment to Georgetown. "It's hard to determine, so that's why they should play, to see who's the best team in the area."

Staff writer Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.


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