John Thompson said everything he needed to say about his freshmen, eight minutes into Saturday's game at Villanova. With Georgetown trailing, 11-2, he sent freshmen Perry McDonald and Grady Mateen into the game.
And Villanova's lead would shrink to two points before long, with McDonald and Mateen playing more than incidental roles during that stretch and in Georgetown's eventual overtime victory.
Saturday's performance was just one of the reasons that the four Georgetown freshmen clearly have received good report cards from the hard-grading Thompson at the mid-term of their first year going into tonight's 8 p.m. Big East game against Providence at Capital Centre.
"Sometimes you get a freshman group and there might be a couple of kids who you think will be nice kids who will represent the program well, but will never be that good as basketball players," Thompson said. "I can't say that about any of these four kids. I'm very pleased with all four of them. We're talking about four kids who will make major contributions."
The freshmen are McDonald, a 6-foot-4 forward/guard, Mateen, a 6-10 forward/center, Kevin Floyd, a 6-4 guard, and 6-8 forward Ronnie Highsmith.
They've adjusted so well, and are so capable as players, that Thompson has the four playing together as a unit in practice, instead of his usual practice of mixing freshmen with upperclassmen.
McDonald and Mateen have had the most immediate impact. McDonald, in fact, is playing about 15 minutes per game and is averaging nearly six points and three rebounds per game. He also has 17 steals and four blocked shots. Thompson says McDonald "has the comfort level of a sophomore."
"Perry's temperament has allowed him to get into some situations," Thompson said. "He's picked up the system quicker than anybody else, probably. And he's been in a variety of competitive sports. He's accustomed to high-level competition."
That high-level competition includes being a two-time national junior boxing champion. "Good jab, and a freight-train right," said McDonald, who also has quite a wit to go along with his toughness.
Don't tell McDonald he's "only 6-4." He was the leading scorer in New Orleans high school history (29 points per game). And while he probably will never average that many points for Thompson, McDonald's style is still to go to the basket, fake out the taller men inside, and score off the glass.
"Playing football in high school -- I was a defensive end -- prepared me pretty good for the physical part of college basketball," he said. "So, it's no big deal running into somebody under the basket. I love it inside."
As Thompson said, "anytime somebody's been in a boxing ring, and a two-time champion in a individual sport, he's going to be extremely competitive."
Toughness is an area where Thompson has seen big improvement in Mateen, whose development is crucial since he will have to help replace Patrick Ewing next season. "He's working with Patrick, Billy (Martin) and Ralph (Dalton) in practice every day," Thompson said. "He's getting tougher. I liked his competitiveness in the Villanova game."
It was Mateen who came in and made a couple of jumpers when his teammates were cold from the field against Villanova. One of the Georgetown assistant coaches mentioned to Thompson that Mateen might have been getting beat defensively, but Thompson recalled saying, "I want them to see somebody put the ball in the basket; let him stay out there."
Mateen has been averaging about four points in 12 minutes per game. "He's a natural shooter," Thompson said. "I see him improving every day. He's gotten stronger, sealing off and receiving (passes) inside. He might not be a shot-blocking center, but he possesses more offensive ability than just about any center who's been around here."
Highsmith and Floyd have been slowed a bit by nagging injuries. But Thompson is no less optimistic about the contributions he sees them making in the future.
"Kevin would have been further along. And Ronnie (who played in the Army before coming to Georgetown) needs more formal tutoring than I initially thought," Thompson said. "But I'm extremely pleased with them attitudinally, on and off the court."
Thompson said one of his concerns with freshmen is putting them into tough game situations too quickly and running the risk of them losing confidence by making mistakes.
Highsmith called the jump from 4 1/2 years in the service to basketball at Georgetown "a difficult transition." He grew up in Robersonville, N.C., a fan of North Carolina State and David Thompson.
Highsmith jumps about as high as Thompson, too. He has great athletic ability. When he learns how to use it, Thompson expects Highsmith to be a very good power forward.
"At times I can see myself improving, then at other times it's hard to see any improvement," Highsmith said. "But there's a lot I have to learn. I haven't gotten down on myself at all because the support of everyone here has been great."
"But it's a different game playing in the Army, I was the biggest guy, in the middle. That isn't the case anymore. I've really got to work on my defense. I think having to check Billy Martin in practice a lot helps."
Floyd missed a lot of practice time early because of an intestinal infection.
The Georgetown program has reached the level where for a freshman to play right away, "he's really got to be good." Indications are that Georgetown has four such freshmen.
In two ECAC South contests tonight, American plays at James Madison and last year's tournament winner, Richmond, visits George Mason. Navy has a nonconference game at Lafayette.