Georgetown no longer 'Big Man U' in basketball

Chris Wright, left, Jason Clark, center, and Austin Freeman are expected to be the stalwarts for a Georgetown program known for years for its big men. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Chris Wright, left, Jason Clark, center, and Austin Freeman are expected to be the stalwarts for a Georgetown program known for years for its big men. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post) (The Washington Post)

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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; 12:14 AM

The names changed over the years, but Georgetown's identity did not. From Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo to Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe, it seems there's always been a premier post presence casting his considerable shadow on the paint for the Hoyas.

This season, however, "Big Man U" needs a new nickname.

With Monroe gone to the NBA and no front-court player of his caliber in waiting, Coach John Thompson III has turned to seniors Chris Wright and Austin Freeman - two of the team's four returning starters - to direct the No. 20 Hoyas as they aim to redeem themselves from a solid if inconsistent 2009-10 season that ended with a confounding loss to an unheralded foe in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"All throughout last year, we all knew, and everyone on the opposing bench knew, that we've got this guy, number 10 down there, and that's where we're going," Thompson said, referring to Monroe. "Now we know we've got number 15 and number four out there, and that's where we're going. It's not rocket science."

It does, though, involve chemistry, the intangible that helps Wright and Freeman form one of the nation's top back courts - and the Hoyas a potential threat to contend for a conference championship.

There are dozens of examples, but few illustrate their uncanny connection more than a highlight-reel steal-and-dunk in a tight loss to Syracuse in February. Wright stole the ball from Orange forward Kris Joseph and, without so much as a peek, skipped a long bounce pass right into the hands of a cutting Freeman, who threw down a one-handed slam that trimmed what had been a 23-point second-half deficit to two points.

"I can't explain it, for real," shrugged Wright, who is pictured on a banner hanging on the side of Verizon Center. "It was my first instinct. I just threw it out there and I knew he was going to get it."

Freeman, who last month joined Ewing, Mourning and Hibbert as the only Hoyas named Big East preseason player of the year, added: "I just knew it was coming. It's the chemistry that comes from the long period of time we've been playing with each other."

In today's college game, starting back courts are fortunate to have two years to get familiar. But Wright and Freeman have known each other since the age of 8 and competed for fierce rivals in high school, Wright suiting up for St. John's and Freeman anchoring DeMatha.

"Did I beat Chris?" Freeman cracked last month. "I beat Chris 11 times. But it's all good."

Wright smiled and shrugged. "They were the better team," he said.

Freeman helped persuade Wright to attend Georgetown after he originally committed to North Carolina State, and the two were roommates their freshman and sophomore seasons. But Thompson said he was forced to separate them as juniors because "like brothers, they needed a break." Neither player elaborated much, though both said they remain best friends - and each other's biggest source of motivation.

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