Back on Track, Georgetown's Sapp Is Eager to Lead

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2009; Page E01

After five consecutive losses, it didn't matter whether Georgetown forced more turnovers, grabbed more rebounds or swished more three-pointers against Rutgers earlier this week.

All that mattered was that the Hoyas finished with more points than their opponent, halting a precipitous slide down the Big East standings before all hope of redeeming the season was gone.

But tucked among the postgame statistics was the fact that Jessie Sapp led the Hoyas in scoring for the first time this season. Though the number was hardly eye-popping -- all it took was 11 points in the 57-47 defensive tussle -- the achievement was significant.

Sapp, Georgetown's lone senior starter, had become the forgotten member of the starting rotation since conference play began, playing the fewest minutes (27) and averaging the fewest points (4.6 per game) for a team off to a disappointing 3-6 start entering last Tuesday's game against Rutgers.

After the victory, Sapp was asked whether he was back in form.

"I'm back," he said with a broad smile and slight nod.

During a break in practice yesterday at McDonough Gym, Sapp elaborated, saying he's eager to become more of a leader both on court and off for the Hoyas (13-8, 4-6 Big East), who will try to take another step toward reclaiming a national ranking today against Cincinnati (15-8, 5-5) at Verizon Center.

"This is the best I've felt since the beginning of the season," said Sapp, a 6-foot-3 guard from New York. "And I feel like I'm back to being my natural self that I think this team needs in order for us to go on and continue what we need to do here."

Georgetown's offense, of course, is predicated on sharing the ball -- passing it as many times as needed to get it to the open man. The leadership of this Hoyas squad has been shared primarily between Sapp and junior forward DaJuan Summers.

"They've been through a lot," said freshman center Greg Monroe, who represents the team's future. "They've been here the longest. They were on the Final Four team. They know what it takes to win in this league."

Georgetown's 2007 Final Four team was the opposite of this year's bunch in one major respect.

Said Coach John Thompson III: "With that group, we had all juniors and seniors, with a couple of freshmen and sophomores mixed in. With this group, we have all freshmen and sophomores, with a couple of juniors and seniors mixed in."

As newcomers, Sapp and Summers were asked to do little other than "don't mess up," Thompson recalled. This season's youngsters must shoulder more -- particularly Monroe and fellow freshman Jason Clark, and sophomores Chris Wright and Nikita Mescheriakov, who played sparingly (Wright) or not at all (Mescheriakov) last season.

Given that reliance on youth, Thompson says, it's crucial the team have leaders in Sapp and Summers.

"They understand how difficult winning is," Thompson said. "Winning is hard. Winning is not always fun. Winning is about sacrifice. They're helping everyone with that process."

Sapp, however, says he thinks he can do better -- whether explaining what Thompson wants on the court, explaining expectations off the court, studying film or boosting confidence and morale.

"That leadership is what is needed on this team, and I think I haven't been the best leader the team needed," Sapp said. "Now I feel like I'm in that position where I can be that best leader."

Mescheriakov, the wiry forward who has struggled at times to shoot as well during games as he has in practice, is a favorite subject for Sapp.

"Every time I'm on the bench, he talks to me about what he sees and what he doesn't," Sapp said. "And I tell him, 'Man, when you get in there, you do it! You show them that you can play!' He wasn't used to the situation, [but] he is relaxed more. I told him he doesn't have anything to prove to anybody."

The Hoyas have something they want to prove today, given the chance to avenge their 65-57 loss at Cincinnati on Jan. 28.

Georgetown trailed by one at the half but got outscored 11-2 in the final minutes. The Hoyas also played all but 13 minutes without Summers, who was sidelined by a foot injury.

Cincinnati is riding a wave of confidence, having defeated Notre Dame, 93-83, earlier this week.

But Summers is healthy again. And the Hoyas are back home, mindful that a postseason berth may be at stake. Currently 10th in the Big East standings, they must win five of their remaining eight games to finish .500 in the league.

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