By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Georgetown junior Jeff Green looked a little dazed when he first stepped off the bus that had carried the Hoyas home from New Jersey yesterday morning, a day after their exhilarating overtime victory over North Carolina in the NCAA tournament's East Region final. The fact that Georgetown is going to the Final Four hadn't really sunk in.
"It probably will in a few minutes, because of all the people out here," said Green, who had a region championship hat perched on his head and a permanently affixed grin. "But it hasn't really sunk in for me because we've got a lot of work to do."
The Hoyas, who only four years ago were 13-15 and out of the postseason, are in the national semifinals for the first time since 1985. They've won 30 games, the highest total since the 1984-85 team went 35-3 and lost in the final to Villanova. Georgetown is the first Big East team to advance to the Final Four since Connecticut did so in 2004.
The only time a Big East team has lost in the national semifinals is when it has played another conference team (St. John's lost to Georgetown in 1985 and Providence lost to Syracuse in 1987); Big East teams are 9-0 against other conferences in the national semifinals.
Georgetown has more losses (six) than any other team remaining; defending champion Florida is 33-5, UCLA is 30-5 and Ohio State is 34-3. And while those three teams each took a turn ranked No. 1 in the country and spent much of the season in the top five of the national poll, the Hoyas started the season ranked eighth and then lost three of their first seven games to fall out of the top 25. Georgetown has now won 19 of its past 20 games.
"We had our ups and downs, and we pulled together," junior center Roy Hibbert said. "Obviously, people had doubts about us, but we knew we were a good team and by the end of the season, we knew we were one of the top teams, as long as we kept working hard and improving. So here we are."
Students began gathering in the parking lot outside of McDonough Arena around 1:15 p.m. yesterday, and by the time the team bus pulled up 30 minutes later, there were a couple hundred people waiting for the Hoyas. Junior forward Patrick Ewing Jr., whose father led Georgetown to three Final Fours, was the first player off the bus; he waved to the cheering crowd as he held the region championship trophy and the net in the air.
Players and coaches posed for pictures and signed autographs; a university worker asked Coach John Thompson III to autograph his Washington Redskins cap, after apologizing for not having a Georgetown one. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty congratulated Thompson, who was carrying the game ball from Sunday's victory, and said that he would try to make it to Atlanta, where the Hoyas will play Ohio State on Saturday night.
The Hoyas have gotten to this point by focusing solely on their next game and blocking out everything else. That might be tougher this week, with the constant attention from fans and the media. Mex Carey, who works in the Georgetown sports information office, said that the voice mailboxes on his cellphone and at work were filled with media requests.
"It looks like it may be" harder, said Thompson, as he surveyed the crowd outside McDonough. "We just have to make sure our guys just understand that we put ourselves in a position to be one of four teams left, we put ourselves in a position to be able to compete next week, and now we have to put ourselves in a position to win."
But for one night at least, the Hoyas enjoyed what they've accomplished so far. After Thompson made the rounds of the local newscasts Sunday, he and his coaching staff spent part of the night sitting in the lobby of their hotel, talking. Hibbert couldn't sleep, so he watched the highlights of the Hoyas' 96-84 overtime win over North Carolina -- Jonathan Wallace's game-tying three-pointer, Georgetown's stingy defense down the stretch -- over and over on "SportsCenter." Then he watched "CSI: Miami." He slept on the bus ride home.
Hibbert said he got a phone call from Folarin Campbell, who helped lead George Mason to last year's Final Four. He also heard from several former Hoyas, such as Mike Sweetney (currently with the Chicago Bulls). Green left his cellphone on the bus Sunday evening, because he didn't want to be distracted by the constant stream of calls and text messages. When he finally checked his phone, he had dozens of them.
"It was off the hook," he said. "It was fun. I just enjoyed it."