By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Chris Wright was a Duke basketball fan when he was younger. Like most teenagers in the Washington area, the All-Met guard from St. John's was only vaguely familiar with the glory days of Georgetown basketball; he wasn't even born when the Hoyas won the national championship in 1984.
Today, however, on the first day that high school seniors can formally accept college basketball scholarships, Wright and fellow All-Met guard Austin Freeman of DeMatha are set to sign letters-of-intent to play for Georgetown. And with top juniors Jason Clark of O'Connell and Chris Braswell of DeMatha already pledged to the Hoyas, Georgetown has four of the top recruits from the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, the region's premier basketball league.
"Georgetown owns D.C. right now, at least the WCAC," said recruiting analyst Tom Konchalski, publisher of the HSBI Report. "They've done a great job. The magic is back."
It has been quite a turnaround. In the previous 15 years, only six first-team All-Met basketball players played for Georgetown. Oxon Hill's Michael Sweetney, the 2000 All-Met Player of the Year, had the highest profile of that group, but the incoming players are considered to be higher-caliber recruits. At a time when George Mason is coming off a Final Four appearance and Maryland is only four years removed from its national championship, third-year coach John Thompson III's recruiting success around the Beltway has turned heads.
"All the local schools are fortunate to be in this area, where there are so many quality basketball players," Thompson said. "I don't think that we are unique in our recruiting local players."
Maryland also is expected to do well locally, with four top players expected to sign with the Terrapins: Montrose Christian guard Adrian Bowie, Bishop Ireton center Shane Walker and center Braxton Dupree and forward Dino Gregory of Baltimore. George Mason is expected to sign three local players: DeMatha guard Isaiah Tate, St. John's forward Vlad Moldoveanu and Freedom-Woodbridge guard Cameron Long.
None of those players, however, holds the same cachet as the four who have committed to Georgetown. Wright, a two-time All-Met, averaged 22.1 points last season. Freeman averaged 17.9 points to lead DeMatha to a 34-1 record and the WCAC title. They generally are considered the area's top seniors, with Clark and Braswell considered the top juniors. And they are the type of players who over the past 15 years would go to schools other than Georgetown.
Why did things change?
Konchalski and several local high school coaches believe Thompson and his coaching staff, now entering their third season, have been able to develop relationships on the area basketball scene, helped by their local ties. Assistant coach Kevin Broadus has spent his entire coaching career in the area. Assistant Sydney Johnson is from suburban Baltimore. And assistant Robert Burke was a teammate of Thompson's at Gonzaga High, also in the WCAC.
Success also played a factor. When Georgetown beat then-No. 1 Duke last January, Freeman, Braswell and several other recruits were sitting in the first row behind the Hoyas' bench. Georgetown's two victories in the NCAA tournament also made an impact, and Thompson acknowledged that he is received differently now when he makes a recruiting pitch; he can remember trying to recruit players in his first two years only to be quickly brushed aside.
"From a new coach walking in the door two years ago to now a team that has gone to the Sweet Sixteen, do kids look at you differently?" Thompson said. "Definitely."
The Hoyas also have benefited from some good fortune. Wright had committed to North Carolina State in January, but decided to reconsider after Herb Sendek left to become the coach at Arizona State. Wright had quickly dismissed Georgetown the first time through the recruiting process, but became much more interested as he watched Georgetown's successful 2005-06 season.
"They started winning and I noticed I could do a lot of different things in their system," Wright said. "You don't want to go to a school where you can't win and can't do well individually and as a team."
The players "know who Allen Iverson is, but they probably never saw Patrick Ewing play or Eric Smith or Sleepy Floyd and those guys," DeMatha Coach Mike Jones said. "But with Georgetown having the success it's had the last few years, you start hearing those stories being told again. You think back 15 or 20 years ago when Georgetown was coming into a national power, these kids' parents remember that. To the dads, it's still pretty impressive to go to Georgetown."
To the moms, too. Lesa Braswell, who grew up in Southeast Washington, remembers Georgetown's glory days and said she wanted her son to choose the Hoyas.
"It's been a long time since Georgetown tried to make it big," Chris Braswell said. "What we're trying to do is put them back on the map, make it big so they can get more recruits after us."