For many former Georgetown basketball players, when they watch the Hoyas play in the NCAA tournament, it just isn't the same any more--and, for the most part, they prefer it that way.
No more does Georgetown play in a small, if friendly, arena. The schedule is upgraded and television appearances are frequent. In the years since he took over as head coach in 1972, John Thompson has given the Georgetown basketball program unmatched success: five appearances in the NCAA tournament and two in the National Invitation Tournament. A program that usually produced exciting mediocre teams now is high-powered, aggressive and nationally respected.
With few reservations, former Georgetown player say they are happy with the changes.
"We certainly weren't as successful," said Jim Barry, who set a single-season scoring average record of 22.6 in 1962-63 for a 13-13 team. "I don't see how anybody could not be happy with what the team is doing."
"There's no question that Georgetown basketball has changed (180) degrees," said Jim Brown, a point guard in the mid-1960s who works in the Washington area for Becton Dickinson, a firm that sells medical supplies to hospitals.
"Sure it's changed, but so have the records. And as far as I can tell, just as many kids graduate as before Thompson.
"They've brought more attention to the school. Thompson has players who are not only top-notch athletes, but good kids as well."
For years, Georgetown was part of the insular, almost clubby circle of basketball teams that rarely traveled outside the East Coast. They competed for the same players-- most of them white, Catholic city kids who played smart, aggressive playground ball. The gyms--nobody had coliseums--were small, noisy and occasionally ominous, in the views of opposing teams.
Thompson has changed nearly all that in 10 years as coach. Home games are played not only at cozy McDonough Arena, but at Capital Centre and Thompson has recruited black players extensively, to the point that this season's team has only two white players. This year, the Hoyas played Nevada-Las Vegas and Missouri on national television. If nothing else, Georgetown is big time.
Which is fine with most former players, who, while proud of their own accomplishments, concede that Georgetown's players today are bigger, quicker, stronger and more talented. Nearly all give Thompson high marks as a coach, although some are perplexed by what they see as his indifference to former Hoyas he didn't coach.
Brian (Puddy) Sheehan, a point guard for the Hoyas from 1959 to 1961, counts himself as an "active and avid fan." Like Brown, Sheehan has season tickets to home games.
"This is just an exciting team," said Sheehan, a real estate agent in Montgomery County. "They play very tenacious defense and the offense gives players a chance to show what they can do."
"The effectiveness of the full-court press is what makes that team," said Bernard White, a reserve in the late 1960s. "From that comes an observed confidence: 'We will make you make a mistake.' "
Patrick Ewing, the 7-foot freshman center, was singled out by Barry, who noted, "His potential obviously is unlimited. He's got great physical gifts, but more than that, he's got the aggressiveness and anticipation you can't teach. Either you have it or you don't."
Brown, for one, would like Ewing to be used more effectively on offense. "They've got to get him the ball more," said Brown, holder of the school single-game record for assists with 15. "That's all I did for three years at Georgetown, get the ball to the big man, and I guarantee you that's what I'd do with someone like Patrick."
As for complaints that Ewing plays too rough, even dirty, this is not the first time a Georgetown player has been so criticized. The 1942-43 Hoyas advanced to the NCAA final by beating De Paul and its 6-foot-10 center, George Mikan, who was held to one free throw in the second half by an undersized freshman.
That was Henry Hyde, now a Republican congressman from Illinois, but then a seldom-used reserve on a talented team that later sent three players to the pros. When John Mahnken, the Hoyas' 6-8 center, fouled out with 10 minutes left, Hyde, all of 6-3, was put in by Coach Elmer Ripley.
"Every time Mikan would get the ball and turn for that hook shot, I'd give him a push," Hyde recalled. "I had played against him in high school, so I knew what he'd do. I was just rough, frankly, but when you come up to a guy's armpits, there's not a whole lot else you can do."