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Whole at the Center

Hoyas' Monroe Has Played Beyond His Years in His Freshman Season

"Most big guys play checkers, and he plays chess," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said of Greg Monroe, who is averaging 12.7 points. (2008 Photo By Bob Child -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 3, 2009; Page E01

It's easy to spot what sets Georgetown's Greg Monroe apart from most college basketball players. For starters, he towers over just about everyone at 6 feet 11, has uncommon quickness and boasts rare court savvy for a freshman.

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But what truly makes Monroe an anomaly is that despite all those qualities, he would rather fit in on a basketball team than stand out.

Monroe's view of the game and his place in it -- as one part of a greater whole, rather than as the star around whom lesser players revolve -- is rare among youngsters with comparable talent and hype.

And it's among the reasons why the 11th-ranked Hoyas, who stand to vault well inside the top 10 following Monday's toppling of second-ranked Connecticut, have outstripped expectations so dramatically through the season's early going.

When the season opened, most prognosticators looked at Georgetown (10-1, 1-0 Big East) and saw a gaping hole where the giant shoes of Roy Hibbert had trod for four years.

In six weeks, Monroe has made them forget.

It's not that Monroe has become a younger version of Hibbert. Rather, he has emerged as an entirely different sort of center, with deft shooting, skilled passing, authoritative shot blocking, unexpected foot speed and a graceful way of involving his teammates in the offense.

"Most big guys know their position, but Greg knows where everybody is on the floor," says ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who provided commentary for the Hoyas' 74-63 upset of Connecticut and worked with Monroe in July at a camp for big men sponsored by Nike. "Greg has a understanding of the entire game. Most big guys play checkers, and he plays chess."

The ranks of basketball analysts singing Monroe's praises are sure to grow as the Hoyas move deeper into the media-saturated Big East season.

Today, they put their 28-game winning streak at Verizon Center to the test against No. 3 Pittsburgh (13-0, 1-0), the only remaining unbeaten team in the conference.

Pittsburgh gave the Hoyas fits last season, beating them in the regular season and in the Big East tournament final. The difference in each game was the Panthers' gritty, physical play, as evidenced by their rebounding dominance.

While Pittsburgh doesn't have a starter as tall as Monroe, the player he'll face off against -- 6-7, 265-pound sophomore DeJuan Blair (13.7 points, 12.1 rebounds) -- is among the most formidable players in the Big East.

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