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The Grass Gets Greener

By Mike Wise
Sunday, February 25, 2007

John Thompson III envisions Jeff Green posting up Syracuse on Monday night, backing his defender down, scoring a bucket from in close that will help clinch at least a share of the Big East championship and a record 12th straight win -- something even Pops never did at Georgetown.

JT III's dilemma is that NBAdraft.net can envision Green, too. Going No. 10 to the Chicago Bulls in June.

Two other respected draft Web sites have the Hoyas' underclassman plucked either 24th or 26th in the first round. Three of the nearly 20 NBA scouts I spoke to yesterday afternoon at Verizon Center, where Green's poise and purpose in the final minutes carried Georgetown to an emotional victory over Pittsburgh, said the multidimensional, 6-foot-9 junior forward will not last past No. 15. Two said that Green very well could be a lottery pick if he keeps playing as well as he has been the past 10 or 15 games.

Jeffrey Green Sr., his father, stated the obvious after the Pittsburgh win: "No question, he's going to have a decision in the offseason."

"I don't know," said his mother, Felicia Akingube. "Right now it's too early to tell."

The blessing of a basketball renaissance at Georgetown is also enough to make a coach curse -- or at least go into a bit of denial.

Told there were at least 15 credentialed pro scouts at the game, Thompson managed a half-smile.

"Hey, Aaron Gray is a heckuva player," he quipped while referring to Pitt's 7-foot center.

Translation: "Please don't put foolish NBA thoughts in my kids' heads before I'm done preparing them for their next challenge in life."

Gray is also projected to be a first-round pick, and the scouts indeed also came to see him and Georgetown's 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert bang inside. But this was Green's game. He seized it when it mattered, scoring on putbacks, stepping into the passing lanes, finding his teammates for two of the most important layups in the final minutes of a game Georgetown had to have to win the regular-season conference title and stay in the running for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Three things won this game for the Hoyas: (1) defensive tenacity, anchored by the most excitable and active guy in the gym, Patrick Ewing Jr.; (2) offensive execution in the final minutes, the way the Hoyas either milked the clock or refused to settle for a bad shot; and above all, (3) Jeff Green.

His calmness in the clutch, especially on the offensive end, was why a throaty sellout gathering stood in awe at the end. This was a no-flow, body-up, contest-every-shot eyesore for much of 40 minutes. Pitt was threatening to pull away with less than 12 minutes left, leading by eight points.

It was about then Green missed a three-point attempt from the left baseline, but got his own rebound and put back the layup. So fundamental and, at the same time instinctual, he looked like Scott May off that 1976 unbeaten Indiana team. He scored on another putback off Jonathan Wallace's miss the next time down the floor.

Then, with 3 minutes 24 seconds left, the score tied and Verizon Center shaking, he floated the prettiest backdoor pass to Jessie Sapp for a layup. Yes, that was a variation of the Princeton offense. Yes, the man who showed John Thompson III how to run that play, 76-year-old Pete Carill, was sitting a few rows from the court, shaking his head in approval as Georgetown scored. And, yes, that kind of pressurized execution when arms are flailing all about you and the arena is too loud to hear a referee's whistle, is the kind of play that translates to performing at the next level.

Does that translate to Green facing a no-brainer after the season? Probably.

But there is reason to think such a decision carefully through, especially at Georgetown, where seasoned, smart men have had experience with such things:

"I'd be upset with the student section chanting, 'One More Year,' " Big John Thompson said. "I mean, if he hasn't got one foot out the door yet, why put the thought in his head?"

Big John also heard an analyst recently saying Green would be so much more effective playing in an offense other than Princeton's -- and almost lost his cookies. "One of the express reasons he is so effective in so many different areas of the floor is because he's playing in that offense," the elder Thompson said.

Having dealt with many underclassmen's immense talent -- including Allen Iverson's -- Big John also seemed to grasp reality.

"You can pretty much find out if you're going to be one of the top picks if you get a good attorney now," he said. "You don't have to be tempted by anyone to make a silly decision. You can know where you'll probably go

"If I'm Jeff, one of the first things I weigh is who's coming out? Who's going before me?"

The chances of leap-frogging Greg Oden, Kevin Durant or Joakim Noah are non-existent. Green could decide to wait for 2008, which would be going against that backward-thinking draft mantra in the college game now: The longer you stay in, the more the scouts figure something must be wrong with you.

The debate used to be an annual conundrum on the Hilltop. That it's happening again, more than a month before a national champion is crowned, says so much about how quickly JT III overhauled the program in three years.

The reward is genuine hope, a high tournament seed, restored prominence to a university used to competing for national titles in men's basketball. The flip side John Thompson III does not want to think about? Jeff Green's last game in a Hoya uniform at Verizon Center may very well be next Saturday against Connecticut.

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