Signs of change are dotted throughout McDonough Arena, the home of the Georgetown men's basketball program for the past half-century or so. The interior walls have received a fresh coat of white and navy paint. The NBA jerseys of former Hoya greats that hang on the wall of the gym have been placed inside nice new frames. A sign that proclaims "Play to win" with images of former Hoya stars -- Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Michael Sweetney -- hangs in a stairwell that leads to the court.
But the biggest change is the man who is behind the physical alterations, the man who is charged with changing the fortunes of the once-proud program: John Thompson III, just the third Georgetown coach in the past 33 years.
"It definitely is a big change," said junior guard Ashanti Cook, one of three returning starters. "Basically it feels like it's a clean slate, pretty much. I look at it as a fresh start, time to do something different."
That's what the Hoyas need, following last season's disappointing results. Georgetown lost its final nine games and finished with a .434 winning percentage, its lowest since 1972-73, the first year that Thompson's father -- Hall of Famer John Thompson Jr. -- was head coach. The Hoyas did not qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1973-74. Coach Craig Esherick, a Georgetown graduate and the elder Thompson's longtime assistant, was fired in March.
Thompson III was hired away from Princeton, where he compiled a 68-42 record in four years at his alma mater, in April. He hired three assistants with local -- though not Georgetown -- ties, which means that for the first time in nearly 25 years, there isn't a single Georgetown graduate on the coaching staff.
Thompson occupies the same office inside McDonough his father once did, though it no longer looks like the same place. Thompson wanted some changes, so walls were knocked down and the entire space was re-shaped. A receptionist's area was created, as was a coaches' meeting room with televisions and editing stations.
Reminders of the rich Georgetown past are everywhere. Just inside the main office door, a deflated basketball is enclosed in a display case, along with a picture of the first Coach Thompson, who famously kept a deflated ball on his desk to remind his players to think about life after basketball. (The inscription inside the case will eventually read, "Don't let the sum of your existence be nine pounds of air.")
A picture of Patrick Ewing -- the words "Georgetown Tradition" and "Taking Your Game to New Heights" printed above his outstretched arms -- hangs in the office lounge. A timeline that highlights some of the great moments and players in Georgetown's history has been added to the upstairs hallway that the players walk through every day to get to their locker room.
"I think it's important to bring a little bit of the tradition and history of Georgetown basketball to this hallway," Thompson said. "In many ways, the stuff we did with our office -- it's the same space, but I walked in there and it was pretty much the same place it was when I was 12, 13, 14 [years old]. I just wanted to bring it up to snuff, modernize it a little bit."
The cosmetic changes were, relatively speaking, easy. The work on the court has been harder.
Nine players are back from the team that finished 4-12 in the Big East last season, but only four of them averaged more than 10 minutes of playing time per game. Only one, junior forward Brandon Bowman, averaged more than 10 points per game. Georgetown's roster includes five freshmen, two seldom-used walk-ons, and one redshirt senior who has been sidelined for much of his career because of injuries.
Thompson has spent much of the past four weeks teaching, touching on everything from the fundamentals of the game to how the Hoyas are going to play. The players have been learning a new offense, one that is based on sharing the ball and movement; new defenses, and a new way of thinking.
"I guess I'd say I'm learning how to play basketball -- not the skills, not the basics, but I'm learning how to play with my teammates," said Bowman, who averaged 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds last season. "I guess the way I feel about learning so far is that I'm open about it. I'm open to everything the coach has to say, because I don't believe he's going to tell me things that will steer me or my teammates in the wrong direction. I'm going to do whatever is necessary for the team."
Thompson often says that the Hoyas -- who open their season against Temple on Nov. 22 -- have this much to learn (arms spread wide) in this much time (hands held inches apart). To that end, he did not schedule any exhibition games, opting instead for closed-door scrimmages against La Salle and Virginia Tech. His reasoning: A scrimmage provides more learning opportunities than an exhibition game.
"You can put your guys in different situations; in a scrimmage, I can go to the other coach and say, 'Hey, I want to see how Joe Blow handles pressure, so could you get your guys to attack him?' " Thompson said. "In an exhibition game, you're trying to win; the other guy has his agenda and you have yours. For this team's learning curve, and our efforts to expedite that, to have a couple of scrimmages is more beneficial than having an exhibition game."
Already, the players have heard Thompson repeat the same ideals over and over. Bowman rattles them off: "Work hard. Get better. Be precise. Be perfect on the court. And most important, play to win." Cook adds, "He emphasizes perfection; if you don't do it right in practice, you're not going to do it right in a game. Perfection. Precise."
Thompson tries to avoid talking about the big picture, like the Hoyas' place in the Big East, or restoring Georgetown's proud tradition. He would rather focus on the team's day-to-day development.
Some things can be changed quickly, with just a coat of paint. Others take a little more time.
"At the end of the day, all of that is fine," Thompson said of the changes inside McDonough. "You have to get players; you have to make the guys you have better, and you're going to have to win games."