Hoyas' Wallace Poised at the Point

Jonathan Wallace will start Tuesday night when 17th-ranked Georgetown plays at DePaul.
Jonathan Wallace will start Tuesday night when 17th-ranked Georgetown plays at DePaul. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

There was never any question that Jonathan Wallace had the toughness and the smarts to be the point guard for the Georgetown men's basketball team. But when Wallace joined the Hoyas last season as a freshman walk-on, there was the question of whether he had the athleticism to survive in the Big East.

In this case, an excess of the former qualities have helped make up for any deficiencies in the latter, and Wallace, just as he has since he joined the team, will start at guard tonight for 17th-ranked Georgetown (14-4, 5-2 Big East), which plays at DePaul (8-10, 1-6).

"He's someone who gets, and will continue to get, the most out of his God-given abilities," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson III, who originally recruited Wallace while he was the coach at Princeton. "The beauty of basketball is that it takes more than just athleticism. Your intelligence, your understanding, your desire are a large part of whether you're a good player or not."

Wallace has those three qualities in abundance. At 6 feet 1, he may be the least imposing -- physically speaking, at least -- guard in a conference that is filled with dynamic back-court players. He doesn't have the speed and quickness of Villanova's Kyle Lowry, for instance; he doesn't have the flair of Connecticut's Marcus Williams. But Wallace has a command of the Hoyas' motion offense and is a steady presence on the court.

"He's always calm," said senior Ashanti Cook, Wallace's back-court mate. "I guess for us to be successful the point guard or our guards need to be focused."

It shouldn't be a surprise that the Hoyas have gotten such leadership and composure from Wallace; this, after all, is a guy who was voted student government president and quarterbacked the football team at Sparkman High School in Harvest, Ala.

"I try to be as poised as I can be," said Wallace, who is averaging 3.3 assists and 9.2 points on 49.1 percent shooting. "Being the point guard, the team looks to you, and usually however I act kind of shows how the team is going. In games like the Duke game, it's so high-tempo, you've got to be even-keeled and keep people on task. The game is so long, it's like a process. You can't get overexcited, you can't get down."

That poise comes from his father, a high school vice principal who coached youth basketball for 15 seasons. Manuel Wallace used to unlock his school's gym early in the morning so Wallace could work out, and he constantly offered advice.

"Growing up around that kind of educated me on how to act in games like that," Wallace said. "One thing he told me -- and Coach Thompson tells me the same thing -- was never lose your composure, always depend on your teammates for help. They're going to have your back."

Manuel also is responsible for Wallace's distinctive shot -- the rainbow three-pointer that looks as if it's going to scrape the ceiling. "I was always the smallest one, so I had to shoot extra high," Wallace said.

Some credit for Wallace's shot should also go to his mother, who used to wave a broomstick in his face as he practiced shooting as a way to simulate tall defenders. "Sometimes I'd whack him in the head by mistake," Cynthia Wallace confessed last year with a giggle.

That outside shot has been much more dependable this season. As a freshman, his shooting faded as the games started to add up; he shot only 34.3 percent (23 of 67) from three-point range in conference games. This season, Wallace is shooting 48.3 percent (14 of 29) from beyond the arc in Big East play, which puts him third in the conference behind West Virginia's Mike Gansey and Marquette's Steve Novak.

Wallace is more confident picking his spots to attack the basket, and he is better at handling pressure. In games against West Virginia, Connecticut and Duke -- three teams now ranked in the top 11 nationally -- Wallace shot 52.7 percent and had 15 assists with only three turnovers. His overall assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.07 is fifth best in the Big East.

On one possession late in the first half against U-Conn., Wallace essentially broke the Huskies' press by himself, dribbling from end to end, weaving through defenders and then driving right at 6-8, 260-pound Ed Nelson. Wallace scored and drew the foul. In the first half against Duke, Wallace drove into the lane, spun off his defender and then added an extra little shimmy right before he laid the ball into the basket, a score that ignited a 19-5 Georgetown run.

"He's the type of kid where he gives you everything," Thompson said. "He's an honest player. What he has, he's going to give you, and that's so key. You need guys like that to win."


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