Questions in Hoyas' Back Court

Jessie Sapp, once an All-Met at National Christian, will look to score more.
Jessie Sapp, once an All-Met at National Christian, will look to score more. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 11, 2006

Jonathan Wallace has heard the cold, concise assessment of the eighth-ranked Georgetown men's basketball team: dominant front court, questionable back court. The junior guard, naturally, does not agree with it.

But at the same time, Wallace and sophomore Jessie Sapp, the only other Hoyas guard with any significant Big East experience, understand why that judgment is made. Georgetown's front court features forward Jeff Green and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, two preseason Wooden Award candidates; its back court lost three major players from last season's team.

Ashanti Cook, forward Brandon Bowman and swingman Darrel Owens contributed nearly 30 points per game and were among the Hoyas' best perimeter passers and defenders on a team that went 23-10 and advanced to the NCAA tournament round of 16 last season. They also accounted for nearly 60 percent of Georgetown's three-point shooting.

The Hoyas need to find a way to replace that production, and develop a back court that can counterbalance a front court that is going to be the focal point of most opposing defenses. That begins today, as Georgetown opens its season against Hartford at Verizon Center.

"To a degree, it drives you a little more," Wallace said of the comments made about Georgetown's guards. "We're a confident group of guys in the back court, that know what our capabilities are, what we're capable of doing, and stuff like that really doesn't faze us that much."

Wallace has been an unflappable presence in the Hoyas' back court since his freshman season. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 2.3 to 1, and he averaged 7.9 points per game. Only three guards in the Big East -- DePaul senior Sammy Mejia (83 starts), St. John's senior Daryll Hill (68) and Villanova senior Mike Nardi (92) -- have made more career starts than Wallace (65).

But Wallace has benefited from playing alongside Cook and Owens throughout his career. This season, for the first time, he is no longer a complement to the older, more experienced back-court players. He is the older, more experienced guard -- and has to act accordingly.

"On the court, I have to be more aggressive. That's a given," said Wallace, who has made 39 percent of his career three-point attempts (96 of 246). "From the past, I've been able to rely on those guys to do certain things, and I've been reluctant myself to do certain types of things in the game. . . . My personal position [is] this year I've got to step up and be more vocal, be more aggressive, and make more plays happen."

The same goes for Sapp, who averaged 16 minutes per game as one of the Hoyas' top reserves. The 6-3 Sapp, who was a big-time scorer as an All-Met at National Christian, took an average of three shots per game as a freshman; he didn't always look for his shot, and he said that he didn't feel completely comfortable shooting the ball (9 of 44 three-point attempts).

Last year, "I was just focused on making sure we get the offense down, making sure we do whatever it takes to get this team to win," Sapp said. "Coming out of high school, everybody knew I could basically score. So I just wanted to show everybody that I could do other little things: I could rebound, I could be the hustle man, do all the little things to help us win."

Last season, the Hoyas were the only team in the Big East to use the same starting five in every game, something that almost certainly will not happen again this year. Wallace, Green and Hibbert -- the three returning starters -- are the only players ensured of starting spots.

"It could be different guys each game; it could be different guys each week," Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said. "I say that now and I may fall into a rhythm, and I may not. I don't think that the starting lineup, particularly with this team, is that essential."

Green's versatility is one reason why several players said that they could envision scenarios in which the Hoyas put essentially one guard and four forwards on the court. Thompson does not like to limit players by labeling them as strictly a "1" or a "2" or a "4."

"I said to everyone that's come here to play, I say to every recruit: I just want basketball players," Thompson said. "If you give me a couple of basketball players, together we can figure it out. If people want to put emphasis on and talk about our guards' strengths or deficiencies, that's fine. I have confidence in this group of basketball players and together, hopefully, knock on wood, we're going to figure it out."

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