By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
NEW YORK, March 6 -- Jeff Green may have been the only person affiliated with Georgetown basketball who was surprised by his selection as Big East player of the year. The versatile junior forward, after all, was the best player and the leading scorer on the team that won the regular season championship. His own coach, John Thompson III, said Tuesday night that Green "should've won it, and I'm glad he won it."
But in the days leading up to the awards ceremony, whenever his teammates asked him if he thought he was going to win, which would make him the first Hoya to earn the honor since Alonzo Mourning in 1992, Green said no.
"I told them I'd rather have Roy [Hibbert, Georgetown's 7-foot-2 center] get it. Because Roy has improved every year that he's been with us," Green said. "It was a big surprise to me that I got this award, because I was really hoping that Roy got it."
Hibbert, like Green, was a unanimous choice for first team all-Big East and had his share of dominating moments. But Green was steadier; the Hoyas were 19-1 when he scored at least 10 points, and 4-5 when he didn't.
Green led the Hoyas in scoring (13.6 points) and assists (3.5), and was second to Hibbert in rebounding (5.9). In conference games, he was 11th in the league in scoring (15.1 points).
Those aren't the gaudy numbers usually associated with a player of the year -- only one of the previous 17 award winners didn't finish among the top six in the league in scoring (Pittsburgh guard Brandin Knight, who averaged 15.6 points in 2002) -- but as Commissioner Mike Tranghese pointed out when he presented the award, in the games that matter most, Green made the plays that counted. There was the game-winning shot in the final 20 seconds at Villanova, the timely rebounds and assists he had down the stretch against Pittsburgh.
"People are finally realizing that having 30 points isn't all you need to become player of the year," said Green, who shared the rookie of the year award with Rudy Gay in 2005. "I think people will stop and realize that you need more than just points to help your team win and to become player of the year."
"At the end of the day, the stats are irrelevant," said Thompson, whose top-seeded Hoyas (23-6) don't play until Thursday. "There have been a lot of people who led the Big East in scoring, who not necessarily have had good careers. I'm not trying to single any people out. At the end of the day, there's not too many things on a basketball court that Jeff Green can't do, and has not been asked to do, and has not done extremely well. That is something that is unique."
Green is the sixth Georgetown player to win the award, joining Mourning, Charles Smith (1989), Reggie Williams (1987), Patrick Ewing (1984, 1985) and John Duren (1980). He said that he was honored to join that list; Thompson said he belonged on it.
"A lot of those guys have gone on and had long careers after they left Georgetown," Thompson said. "He's obviously still here, but as far as what he's done for our team, as far as the responsibility he's had, how he's responded to it, he belongs in the group."
Green, an All-Met from Northwestern High, was at the center of a banner night for Washington area basketball. Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds, a two-time All-Met from Herndon, was named rookie of the year after averaging 18.4 points in conference play, second in the league. Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey, who grew up in Rockville and attended DeMatha and George Washington, was named coach of the year after leading the Irish to an 11-5 record and a fourth-place finish.
"I saw those names and I said: 'How about that? Three D.C. guys.' Pretty good representation by the old Washington area," said Brey, whose team was picked to finish 11th in the preseason coaches' poll. "Gotta represent the Washington area. It validates that we know how to play this game down there."
Now the focus turns to the games inside Madison Square Garden. Several coaches said this is shaping up to be one of the most competitive tournaments in recent years, because of the depth of the conference. Villanova, for instance, is the ninth seed, and the Wildcats have won 21 games -- including one at Georgetown -- and are ranked in the top 20 of the Ratings Percentage Index.
"I've always thought of it being a wide-open tournament," said Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon, whose team is seeded third. "Especially now, with the league being so big with 16 teams and the unbalanced schedule, I think the seedings become less reflective of the teams. There are more inconsistencies in what the final standings might be. It wouldn't surprise me if any of the 12 won it."
Marquette Coach Tom Crean said Monday that he thinks that the league deserves eight NCAA bids, which would match last year's record total. The opening round games on Wednesday will help determine if that becomes reality.
Of the eight teams playing on Wednesday, three (Marquette, Syracuse and Villanova) are already in position to earn NCAA tournament bids. Three more (West Virginia, DePaul and Providence) need to win a couple of games to bolster their résumés. The other two (Connecticut and St. John's) need to win the tournament to have any chance.
In each of the past two tournaments, a team that played on the opening day advanced to the final game -- something that had happened only twice in the first 22 editions of the four-day event. Last year, ninth-seeded Syracuse came to New York squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble and won four straight games to earn the conference's automatic bid. The Orange, thanks to a series of a heroic performances by senior Gerry McNamara, became the lowest-seeded team to win the title.
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, a Hall of Famer and winner of more than 700 games, said that run was one of the best experiences he has had in coaching. Other coaches see it as an example of what's possible this week.
"Hopefully it'll be a chance for us to, quite frankly, salvage some of the season," said Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun, whose 17-13 team comes in with its lowest seed ever (12th). "I'm not making us out to be a team that's ready to win four straight games. Could we? Sure. . . . It's nice to have a fresh start."