By Mike Wise
Saturday, February 14, 2009; E01
No one at Georgetown is blaming the recent losing and lethargy on chemistry or ego -- the dreaded Bad Locker Room Juju. None of the culprits that can often submarine a team once ranked in the top 10 nationally, once a virtual shoo-in for the NCAA tournament, is given any credence.
"It took us a while before we got to a Final Four, won a Big East tournament, won back-to-back regular season titles," said Roy Hibbert, the former Hoyas center who was on campus yesterday while on all-star break from the Indiana Pacers. "Give them time."
"The difference is, they're younger," said Coach John Thompson III, whose team of one senior and tons of teenagers has lost six of seven games for the first time since 2004-05, his first season with the program.
"Some lessons have to be learned . . . they have to experience some pain sometimes to grow."
But nation's toughest schedule and all, these Hoyas don't share or care like they did earlier in the season. They fall in love with the three-point line and forget their Selection Sunday meal ticket, Greg Monroe, is posting up on the blocks. How Georgetown went from rolling at 12-3 to reeling at 13-9 bears some closer inspection.
"I've had a couple teams where I look and say, 'We can't do it,' for whatever the factors are," Thompson said. "I've felt that with particular teams that couldn't get done what we wanted to get done. I do not feel that about this group."
Asked whether the 2007-08 team, knocked off by Stephen Curry and Davidson, was among that group, he added, "No, I didn't feel that last year."
Interestingly, a player from last season's team received a call from his mother in late December 2007. She said she was about to buy a ticket to San Antonio, site of the 2008 Final Four, before her son cut her off in mid-sentence.
"Don't bother," the player, on condition of anonymity, said he told his mother. "We're not going anywhere, Mom. We don't have the same chemistry as last year."
DaJuan Summers, then a sophomore, and Hibbert, a senior, the player said, were covertly feuding over who was Georgetown's No. 1 offensive option -- an issue the player said hurt the team as it entered the stretch run.
Hibbert, who opted to return to Georgetown for his senior season, wound up as the No. 17 pick in the NBA draft. He became a microcosm of the program under Thompson, maturing from a gangly, uncoordinated beanpole to a bona fide big man with a baby hook and drop-step move unseen from a 7-footer on the Hilltop since the late 1980s.
"People laughed at me when I told them I was going to Georgetown out of high school," said Hibbert, who maintains there were no chemistry problems between he and Summers. "Look where the program is now."
Summers, conversely, came to Georgetown highly touted. Just last month the junior was projected to go as high as the top five picks in a mock draft, but the Hoyas' slide has mirrored his own in cyberspace -- Summers's status has fallen, to where he's now projected at No. 13.
"I don't really remember me and Roy getting into it over that," Summers said on Thursday. "But as a group of players, [friction] happens sometimes. The chemistry was fine; it was just competitive nature if anything. Me and Roy never really had a bad relationship or anything. There wasn't any question it was Roy's team."
Still, sometimes it feels as if there are two Georgetown programs trying to coexist: The prime-time hoops factory that prep phenoms want to play for again, and the one rebuilt by the heart-and-soul players Thompson either inherited or had to recruit because all the big-time kids were already signed.
Kids like Jessie Sapp, the only senior on this team and maybe the last holdover from that era. He's also the player who sat the second half in the loss to Cincinnati at home last Saturday after Thompson yanked his starters in the first half. The emotional Sapp let it be known he was not happy about his coach's decision at the time.
"There are a lot of emotions running around, but everything's fine," Thompson said.
Like many of the players who rebuilt the Hoyas -- Jeff Green, Tyler Crawford, Jonathan Wallace and Hibbert -- Sapp wasn't thought of as a premier talent coming out of high school.
Sophomore Chris Wright, who finished the Cincinnati game, came to Georgetown as a McDonald's all-American. He was the first boys' basketball player since Adrian Dantley to be named All-Met three times. He's used to putting up shots, having averaged 30 points per game his senior year at St. John's College High School.
Those mind-sets are partly why the two exchanged heated words near the end of the game at Duke on Jan. 17, when Georgetown's 1-6 slide began. Two people with knowledge of the situation told me Sapp and Wright also exchanged more than fist-bumps in the locker room afterward, although J.T. III called any reports of a ruckus "inaccurate," and the players denied any kind of fisticuffs when asked Thursday.
"Nothin' happened between me and him," Sapp said. "We're fine. We're going to agree on certain things and disagree on certain things -- that doesn't mean we were actually in there fist-fightin' or doin' all this crazy stuff."
"We have no issues whatsoever," Wright said, repeating the words three times. "We have no issues."
Look, whatever has gone on behind closed doors in McDonough Gym or elsewhere, this is all a natural progression of a program that was bound to experiencing growing pains after going from mediocrity to the Final Four in three years.
The benefits include more highly coveted recruits committing to the Hilltop, much like blue-chip kids once committed to Thompson's father's program. With more athleticism and fewer projects, the ability to quicken the tempo and play a more aesthetically appealing brand of ball attracts that kind of kid even more.
But when a program speeds up this fast, the concerns come quicker, too. On the court, a fuel-injected transition game can lead to more turnovers for a team with just two upperclassmen. When the patience that begot all those pretty backdoor layups the first few years starts to dissolve into deep perimeter shots, so too does the shooting percentage -- leading to run-outs and easy baskets by opposing teams.
Worse, off the court, when talents like Summers and Monroe -- and, yes, Wright -- find their niches and confidence at the Division I level, the chore is to ensure their NBA apprenticeship lasts more than merely two years.
Pulling up the link to the same recent mock draft that predicts Summers will be taken 13th in June (odds are that he's leaving after his junior year), Monroe is slated to go No. 8.
Which begged the obvious question Thursday: Is the man-child in the middle returning for at least another season?
"Yeah, I'm coming back," Monroe said, half-smiling.
For John Thompson III's sake, here's hoping he doesn't change his mind. If the big kid left now, that's a problem more serious than fragile chemistry.