When it matters, Greg Monroe steps up, hits game-winner

While Greg Monroe is unselfish almost to a fault, he took control when Georgetown needed it and delivered the winning basket.
While Greg Monroe is unselfish almost to a fault, he took control when Georgetown needed it and delivered the winning basket. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Between the low score and two former Ivy League coaches opposing each other again, it was natural to refer to Georgetown's riveting home opener as a "Princeton-Penn kind of game." But one look at Greg Monroe seizing the game in the final seconds, and it's also easy to see why John Thompson III quickly -- and correctly -- killed that angle.

"It was like Princeton because I was sitting on one bench and Franny was sitting on the other bench," the Hoyas' coach said of his counterpart, Temple's Fran Dunphy. "In every other way, it's not like Penn and Princeton."

J.T. III is right. The Ivy League, bless its heart, could not sign and seal a player the caliber of Monroe.

He's the sharing-is-caring sophomore center on the Hilltop, a place that has had, oh, a few good players at the position. With his 19th-ranked team in real peril early Tuesday night, he peeked at the clock with less than 10 seconds left, put his head down, took a power dribble and scored in the clutch to push the Hoyas past the Owls in a scrum more than a game.

Monroe has a soft shot, a remarkable understanding of space and trajectory underneath the backboard for 19 years old, already has a pretty jump hook in his offensive arsenal and, at 6-foot-11, is one of the best interior passers in America. Oh, and if needed he can play point guard and initiate the offense, too.

But that last quality is a double-edged sword, playing to perhaps Monroe's most glaring weakness, the one flaw that keeps him from realizing his full potential: Niceness.

Deference. Being unselfish almost to a fault. As a friend and colleague said, "He must have a good mother, because he's so polite."

Okay, that's nitpicking. And in an era of big-time college athletes misbehaving on so many levels, it's a character trait to be celebrated more than denigrated. Fine. Understood. Monroe should be a caring, kind and concerned-for-others person -- off the court.

Once he dons that blue and gray No. 10 jersey, once he steps into the midcourt circle like Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Michael Sweetney and Roy Hibbert before him, there are times when he doesn't need to worry about finding Chris Wright backdoor or making sure Austin Freeman gets his touches behind the three-point line.

Sometimes, he needs to put his head down and win basketball games like Tuesday night. He's surely heard this from Little John, Big John and everyone who has his ear and understands the game. (Heck, the entire arena was egging him on when he caught the ball in the high post. Frightened he would take too much time or pass the ball, they were essentially telling Monroe with their pleas, "Don't pass! Go! Now!"

And he did, going to the rack, putting the ball softly off the glass with his left hand on the right side as the building stood and roared with 6.5 seconds left.

That he's being proactive in the crucible of a one-point game is a nice and welcome development for Georgetown, who, let's be clear, rarely won these down-to-the-wire affairs during the soul-searching that went on endlessly last season.

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