By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 12:03 AM
At the end of last season, Henry Sims found himself seated at the end of the Georgetown basketball team bench, reduced to a spectator as the Hoyas lost in the Big East championship game and the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Much, though, has changed for Sims over the past eight months.
After those final frustrating days of a sophomore season in which he played less than seven minutes on average, Sims, at the urging of Coach John Thompson III, returned to his home town of Baltimore - not to work on his game, but rather to rededicate himself to it.
"I had gotten used to the college atmosphere," Sims said Wednesday. "I was on my own with no rules. I went home, and me and my mother sat down and had a lot of talks. She brought me back down to earth and laid it out for me plain and simple. Being at home with her for four weeks, it made me realize what I was doing all this for. She helped me refocus."
Thompson agreed with Sims's blunt self-assessment, saying, "Last year, Henry enjoyed college a little too much. But his mom is extremely important to him and a big influence on him, and collectively, they got him back on track. "
This season Sims still is managing to enjoy himself. But now it's mostly because of what he's doing on the court.
In addition to being Georgetown's most improved player, he's also morphing into a key reserve who could receive important minutes Thursday at FedEx Forum as the No. 10 Hoyas (10-2) wrap up their nonconference schedule at No. 16 Memphis.
The Tigers are off to a 9-1 start but aren't expected to have their leading scorer, forward-guard Wesley Witherspoon (knee surgery), and will be without forward Angel Garcia, who withdrew from school this month to pursue a professional career in Spain. They also might not have forward-guard D.J. Stephens (groin muscle strain).
The injuries, coupled with Garcia's departure, could leave Memphis's front court short on depth just as Georgetown has discovered some thanks to Sims's emergence.
Sims is averaging five points and four rebounds per game. He's also sixth on the team in minutes played (16.8), and in four of the past five games, he has received more minutes than senior center Julian Vaughn. A dramatic increase in playing time for Sims wasn't the plan entering the season, but his improved play has made it increasingly difficult for Thompson to justify keeping him on the bench.
"Coach always talks about how he coaches off feel, and as of late, he's gotten some trust in me, some confidence in me, so he's comfortable leaving me in the game for long stretches," Sims said.
Sims had arguably the most complete game of his career in Saturday's 99-75 thumping of Loyola (Md.) with 12 points - he was 5 for 5 from the field and 2 for 2 from the free throw line - and with five assists. Both figures equaled career highs.
But here's a more shocking illustration of just how far Sims has come: The totals also surpassed his combined number of points and assists from the final 19 games last season.
"His mental approach is much better than last year," Thompson said. "Last year, he almost thought he could just show up and good things would happen as opposed to understanding that mentally, physically, emotionally, you have to be prepared. He's also just been more serious about basketball, about his preparation.
"This year, he's realized that basketball is important to him."
The real test for Sims, Thompson said, will be his continued commitment to getting better through hard work in practice - and remembering his mother's sage advice.
If Sims ever needs reminding, he needs only to look down at his chiseled biceps. "Hope" is tattooed on the right one, "Believe" is inscribed on the left.
"My mother always talks about having hope and believing in yourself," he said. "Those words have always stuck with me."