Mike Wise: Hoyas Show True Grit

By Mike Wise
Thursday, January 15, 2009

The team that doesn't hit the boards as much as it massages and caresses them, the swell if toughness-challenged kids in their navy blazers on the Hilltop, finally found a bit of an ornery streak last night.

The Georgetown Hoyas of John Thompson III -- whose dad surmised during his radio show this week that more "thugs" might be needed to represent such an upstanding academic university on the basketball court -- showed the hammer of Big John's old teams early and the scalpel of Little John's recent teams late.

They dissected Jim Boeheim's signature zone in an 88-74 Big East win over eighth-ranked Syracuse -- a triumph that assuaged at least two fears about the No. 13 team in the nation from the District.

No. 1: The Hoyas might have more depth than "Real Housewives of Orange County" after all. Usually five, maybe six players deep, they had nine different names score in the first half, including Nikita Mescheriakov, who dropped in two deep three-pointers as Verizon Center whooped and hollered for the zone-buster from Belarus.

And No. 2: They're not about to hand over their 2008 Big East regular season title prior to February.

Boeheim brought a mirage of a 16-1 team to town, unbeaten at 4-0 in the conference to the 2-2 Hoyas. There was no Carmelo Anthony or Hakeem Warrick to speak of for the Orange, but Boeheim did have a bolt of a 6-foot guard named Jonny Flynn and some abnormally wide bodies that portended doom for Georgetown, which came in ranked, uh, 298th nationally in rebounding.

And while Syracuse became the ninth team in 15 games to have a better night than the Hoyas on the glass, there was an unmistakable energy out on the floor, a grit the Hoyas could have used against rugged Pittsburgh 11 days ago, the team that made the patriarch of Georgetown basketball wish for more tenacity from those polite undergraduates on his son's team, the kids who kept giving up extra shots, putbacks and essentially ceding the nastiness factor to anyone else on the floor who wanted it.

John Thompson Jr. took a bit of guff this week for his choice of word -- the idea being that anyone outside the Hoyas program who used that term for one of his players, circa 1980s, usually caught hell from Big John.

"What's said on my radio show stays on my radio show," he said after J.T. III's team moved to 12-3. "It's a lot different for me to say 'thug' than you to say 'thug.' "


"Look, they took the word in the literal sense." Thompson said. "I wasn't saying they needed to get someone who robs somebody or stabs somebody. I'm talking about a completely different thing in a basketball sense, which was explained that day."

Frankly, what Big John said needed to be said about these gentlemanly Hoyas for a while -- that it's not dirty to lay a little wood on the opposing team, that using your forearm to ensure your opponent does not get to the rim unmolested is a virtue in big-time college basketball, not hooligan hoops. And who better to say it?

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