By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Jessie Sapp may not have a consistent shot -- yet -- but what the Georgetown guard does have is a certain flair. During the 18th-ranked Hoyas' 69-54 victory over Ball State on Monday night, Cardinals Coach Ronny Thompson joked with Sapp, telling the sophomore that his players were going to leave him alone and let him shoot.
With about 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half, Sapp, who entered the game as a 23 percent three-point shooter for his career, found himself open against the Ball State zone. He made the three-point shot, his sixth of the season, and glanced over to the Ball State bench.
"He just looked at me and smiled," Sapp said after the game. "I just smiled back."
Granted, Sapp didn't make another shot the rest of the game, and finished with six points on 2-for-8 shooting. But he made his point.
Sapp, who appeared in all 33 games last season as one of the first reserves in the game, moved into Georgetown's starting lineup in the second game of this season. In every game since then, his play has grown more assured and consistent.
He has recovered from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the first week of preseason practices, and Coach John Thompson III said that the 6-foot-3 guard is finally getting his rhythm back. Against the Cardinals, Sapp had a career-high eight assists as well as two steals in 31 minutes.
"Jessie is learning," Thompson said. "Jessie is in situations now that he wasn't in last year. When he was out there last year, he was on the floor [as] another body. And now we're depending on him to bring so much more to the table. He's going through a similar growth process that our freshmen are going through."
Sapp is currently second on the Hoyas (4-1) in minutes played, behind back-court mate Jonathan Wallace, and he has taken more shots (47) than any other player -- a big difference from last season, when he often seemed hesitant to put up his shot. He is averaging 11 points, fourth best on the team, on 40.4 percent shooting.
He will face his first real test of the season tonight, when the Hoyas host Oregon (5-0) at Verizon Center. The Ducks' top two scorers are guards, 5-6 freshman Tajuan Porter (24 points per game) and 6-foot senior Aaron Brooks (17.5 points). Oregon's defense is forcing opponents into an average of 22.4 turnovers.
Sapp has been steady with the ball; he didn't commit a turnover against Ball State, and he has just four turnovers in 148 minutes played this season. He can beat defenders with his quickness, and when he gets a defensive rebound or makes a steal (he has a team-high eight), he likes to push the ball. Sapp, who grew up in Harlem and played AAU basketball for the Bronx-based Gauchos before transferring to National Christian as a senior, thrives in the open court.
"He has a New York style of basketball; he can make the pass from anywhere," junior forward Jeff Green said. "He's learned from last year, the mistakes he had last year, and he's a much better player than last year. I believe that all the guards on our team are leaders."
Sapp knew that he was going to have to take on a more vocal role with the graduation of Ashanti Cook, Brandon Bowman and Darrel Owens. He's always been confident that he could.
"I have to be the coach on the floor, me and Jon," Sapp said. "When I get on the floor, I have to be that leader. . . . It's comfortable. I've always wanted to be a leader in my life. I've never wanted to follow anybody. Just them believing in me, I'm happy."
Note: Junior guard Malik Hairston, who scored 17 points in Oregon's 71-57 loss to Georgetown last season, could make his first appearance of the year tonight. Hairston, the Ducks' top returning scorer, has been nursing an injured groin. Sophomore guard Churchill Odia, who played at Montrose Christian and began his college career at Xavier, will not play; he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery.