Nikita Mescheriakov Emerges as a Starter for Georgetown Hoyas Men's Basketball

"When you play hard, aggressive defense, you pick up fouls," Coach John Thompson III said of Nikita Mescheriakov. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nikita Mescheriakov isn't yet an entirely familiar name among Georgetown basketball fans.

The sophomore from Belarus was relegated to the bench for eight of this season's first 16 games. He didn't play more than 15 minutes in a single outing until Jan. 28.

But since being elevated to the starting lineup on Feb. 14, Mescheriakov has carved out a distinct niche: committing more fouls per minute played than any Hoya.

And Coach John Thompson III couldn't be more grateful.

"He plays extremely hard, and when you play hard, aggressive defense, you pick up fouls," Thompson said. "I wish a few more people got into foul trouble more often, to tell you the truth. That's not a negative."

For Thompson and the Hoyas, it has been a season of maddening inconsistency, in which a young squad has flailed about in search of an offensive identity, a defensive presence and a lineup capable of delivering both.

In Thompson's quest for a solution, no move was more shocking than his decision to replace the team's only senior in the starting lineup, Jessie Sapp, with Mescheriakov.

A long-limbed 6 feet 8, Mescheriakov may not grow any taller. But at 214 pounds, he has plenty of opportunity to bulk up his frame, which is hardly imposing in the brawny Big East. Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair, the leading candidate for the league's player of the year honors, is one inch shorter but 51 pounds heavier.

Nonetheless, Mescheriakov has earned his starting spot on grit -- diving for loose balls during practice and games, flinging himself into scrums over rebounds and contesting bigger opponents' shots. He's also a dangerous three-point shooter, although his range and accuracy haven't yet translated from practice to games.

Thompson seems willing to wait, confident that the effort Mescheriakov exerts will pay off on both ends of the court.

"That will come with his comfort level," Thompson said. "But he sees the open man. And he can make passes, too."

Meantime, Sapp has proven more effective in relief.

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