There's a freshman starting at point guard, a freshman starting at off guard, a freshman starting at small forward. There are six freshmen in all, seven new players including a transfer student on the Georgetown roster. There is also Alonzo Mourning, which, above all else, is why Georgetown beat Duke Wednesday night at Capital Centre.
Early in the evening, when people were actually awake and tuned into the second half of the ACC-Big East Challenge, Mourning owned the game. A dunk off an offensive rebound tied it. A dunk off another offensive rebound put the Hoyas ahead for good, 12-10. An 18-foot fadeaway jumper -- the kind of shot he needs to master before heading for the NBA, made it 16-10. Another stick-back basket made it 18-10. Georgetown needed every bit of the cushion because, late in the game, well past midnight during final exams week, Duke had a chance to tie the game or close to one point with about 12 seconds left. Brian Davis inside for a point-blank shot. Mourning swatted it. Game over.
It's early in the season, far too early to make proclamations about Mourning, Georgetown, or anybody for that matter. The game was on his home court and Duke has five freshmen of its own. Still, it was the kind of game we expect from Mourning, the kind of game that satisfies the critics who grew in number at the end of last season, and the kind of game Georgetown will need from him in virtually every match with a top 20 team: 22 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 steals, about 15 shots hurried, changed or simply not taken.
A lot of people suspected Mourning would have such a game. A revenge game, a grudge match against his friend Christian Laettner and Duke, the team that kept him and Georgetown out of the Final Four two years ago. "No, no, no, no, no," Mourning said. "I told people before this game, I can't look at it as revenge or anything like that."
To refresh the memory a little, Duke won that regional semifinal largely because Laettner had nine rebounds to go with 24 points. Mourning had 11 points, five rebounds and a lot of pine time. Laettner recalled the game. "And I don't remember him playing badly," he said, taking up for his buddy. "He got in foul trouble early, plus he had Danny Ferry to worry about."
The perception, however, was that Mourning got outplayed by Laettner and that Mourning, now a junior, had a score to settle. "I remember the game and all the hype that went with it," Mourning said of that regional final. "It was a very big game and unfortunately we lost. But I took it in stride. I was building a foundation for the next couple of seasons. The way to do that is become more mature with every game and every season. Mature. That's what's important."
It's easy to make too much of one early season game, but noticeably absent from Mourning's game Wednesday night was the demonstrative waving of the hands, motioning to the crowd and such. More mature is not to suggest devoid of emotion. Mourning demanded the ball from the freshmen, got it, turned and jammed it on somebody's head. That's all the demonstration necessary. "What I learned about him when we became friends," Laettner said, "was how fierce and how intense he is. It's something I could certainly pick up." Asked if Mourning seemed particularly fired up, Laettner smiled and said, "I'm sure he was. But I'm not saying he was looking for revenge. I think he had a lot of team incentives."
And responsibilities. When there are three freshmen on the court, as there often are for Georgetown these days, the big gun has to play for more than himself. Dikembe Mutombo is the only senior, but that's nominal. Mourning has played two full years in college plus two summers of international basketball. Just as Reggie Williams took an earlier team loaded with freshmen into his bosom, Mourning will have to do the same with this group of Kids R Us. Even if Joey Brown and Charles Harrison turn out to be something like Dwayne Bryant and Mark Tillmon, it's harder for a big man to control the game simply because he is dependent on someone else (who in this case is 18 years old) getting him the ball. That will be a real test of maturity. "We have to compensate for that" lack of experience, Coach John Thompson said. "Alonzo and Dikembe have to provide a certain amount of stability."
Mourning has to handle the ball more now. He has to play better floor defense, Thompson said, and not rely on blocking shots. When defenses sag around him as they surely will, he'll have to be more adept at hitting the open man (which he showed several times against Duke) and able to get his own shot, sometimes farther away from the basket. In short, he has to do it all. "It's not too much responsibility on me," he said, referring primarily to helping the freshmen. "The young guys have already shown they will get better quickly. . . . With time and with my experience, everything is gradually falling into place and helping me build a solid foundation going into my pro career."
Someone asked Mourning whether his 22-point, 10-rebound, 4-block effort to beat Duke was the best game of his career against a really good team. "It was a great game, I guess," he said. "But I'm not going to say it was my most satisfying because we didn't win a championship or anything."