By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 11:54 PM
NEW YORK - Austin Freeman, Georgetown's leading scorer last season, has shown that he's capable of dominating games. Now, as the Hoyas guard prepares for his senior season, he's expected be the most dominant force in the Big East.
Freeman was voted the Big East preseason player of the year by the conference's coaches Wednesday, joining Roy Hibbert, Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing (three times) as the only Hoyas to earn that distinction.
"It's an honor, but it also means that I'm going to have to be more focused this year because people are going to be coming after me," said Freeman, who has received the same honor from the Blue Ribbon Yearbook and also is a candidate for the John R. Wooden Award as college basketball's top player. "It's special to be mentioned with those guys because we all know they were really great players."
Georgetown was picked to finish fourth in the coaches' poll. A season after reaching the Big East tournament title game but then getting upset by Ohio University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas bring back four starters but must overcome the loss of center Greg Monroe, who left after his sophomore season for the NBA.
Hoyas guard Chris Wright, a senior, was named to the Big East preseason second team.
Pittsburgh, which also has four returning starters, was selected to win the Big East's regular season crown (12 first-place votes) and was followed by Villanova (one) and Syracuse (two). St. John's, picked sixth, received the other first-place vote.
"Where you are picked is irrelevant," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said during media day Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. "With the quality of the teams in this room, and the players in this room, and the coaches in this room, at the end of the year, that order could be completely jumbled up and no one would be surprised."
What's not up for debate, though, is the player the Big East's coaches believe will have the biggest impact on his team. Freeman averaged a team-best 16.5 points per game last season - 19.5 in conference play - and led all conference guards with a 52.5 shooting percentage. The 6-foot-3Â½ DeMatha graduate also led the league in three-point shooting (51.9 percent) and was fourth in free throw accuracy (85.6 percent).
Without a star big man to rely upon, Thompson plans to put the ball in the hands of Freeman and fellow senior Wright - they're the only players on the team's media guide's cover - and let them carry the scoring load.
Freeman said he embraces the increased responsibility.
"Coach told us from the start that this year, it's pretty much our team, that the focus is going to be on the guards," Freeman said. "We have to set the tone. Me, Chris and Jason [Clark] have pretty much taken that to heart."
Freeman's first test of the season came Wednesday morning, when he had to overcome some jitters as he stepped to the podium to deliver a brief speech in front of several dozen reporters, coaches and his peers about what it means to compete in the Big East and suit up for the Hoyas. Later, the soft-spoken Mitchellville native was more at ease as he discussed something else he's worked hard to overcome.
Freeman missed a game in March after learning he had diabetes but said he hasn't suffered any setbacks since. In fact, he said that thanks to an increased focus on conditioning and diet, he shed 11 pounds during the offseason.
Freeman has seen a significant uptick in his scoring average and consistency each season, and there's no reason to believe that upward trend won't continue now that he's going to be the focal point of the offense and is healthy. He enters the season 27th on Georgetown's all-time scoring list with 1,197 points, and with another big season could move into the top 10 on the all-time scoring list, past Allen Iverson, Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Jeff Green and other legends of the program.
"It shows that I've progressed through the years," Freeman said. "If I get there, I get there. But the main focus for me is that my team gets better, we play hard every game and we win."