Georgetown senior Ashanti Cook has always been a point guard throughout his basketball career, but he has never defined himself at any particular position.
"Just as a basketball player," Cook said. "Whatever you want me to do, I'll do it."
Last week, in the Hoyas' 71-57 win at Oregon, that meant scoring; Cook had a career-high 25 points and made 8 of 10 from the field. Tonight, when Georgetown (3-1) plays 11th-ranked Illinois (8-0) at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill., it could be something completely different.
Cook, who is averaging 12.8 points, and sophomore Jonathan Wallace are the outside complements to the Hoyas' inside strength of forwards Jeff Green and Brandon Bowman and center Roy Hibbert. Illinois Coach Bruce Weber refers to Georgetown's perimeter players, which includes wing Darrel Owens, as the team's X-factors.
"If the guards are productive, it puts you in a bind because it spreads out your defense," he said.
Neither Cook nor Wallace fits Coach John Thompson III's tongue-in-cheek description of a classic point guard and two-guard: "The point guard is usually a little guy that dribbles around too much and can't shoot. The two is a shooter that can't dribble."
Thompson tells recruits that he doesn't think in terms of positions; he likes versatile players who can dribble and pass and shoot. Cook, who was recruited by former coach Craig Esherick, fits that. Georgetown's two freshman guards, Jessie Sapp and Josh Thornton, were prolific scorers in high school; Sapp averaged 24.3 points as an All-Met at National Christian, and Thornton left Caesar Rodney (Del.) High as the school's career leading scorer.
"I do like to recruit guys that are scoring point guards, if you will, or shooters that like to distribute the ball," Thompson said. "The reality is, in looking at our personnel, that's what we have. Jon is probably more of a point guard than Ashanti, and Ashanti is probably more of a scorer. But they both have the aptitude and ability to do both."
That is a luxury for the Hoyas, because when one is hot -- as Cook was against the Ducks -- the other can serve as the primary ballhandler. Sapp, who is averaging 14.5 minutes off the bench, is developing into that kind of player as well.
Wallace, like Cook, was a point guard in high school and was accustomed to having the ball, and the offense, in his hands.
"At first it was tough. You're used to one guard bringing the ball up the floor and setting up the offense, but here, one guard just complements the other," said Wallace, who is averaging 8.3 points and leads the team with seven steals. "In the offseason, we learned to play with each other and learned each other's tendencies and how we're going to handle certain situations that we face during the game. We kind of know what each other is going to do. We pretty much play from there. We just play ball."
Added Cook, "We have to be on the same page in order to make the team run smoothly."
Georgetown's offense is based on making reads and moving without the ball, not running through plays. The guards aren't necessarily the ones who will make the pass that will lead to the basket; last season, Green led the Hoyas with 92 assists (Cook was second with 80). So far this year, Owens, the sixth man, has a team-leading 14 assists; Wallace has eight and Cook has three. Wallace and Cook have each committed five turnovers in four games.
The trick for Cook is figuring out what his role is going to be against a particular opponent. Should he be looking for his own shot? Or does the 7-foot-2 Hibbert or the athletic 6-9 Green have a mismatch inside? Or is Owens or Bowman shooting well from the outside?
"In this offense, you're always going to have open shots," said Cook, who has made 17 of 28 shots (60.7 percent) this season. "Because of the cutting, you're going to have a layup or a three-point shot; basically, you have to pick and choose. I think it's easier now to pick and choose when is a good shot, when is a bad shot. I'm not going to take a shot two seconds into the shot clock. That doesn't make sense."
Cook is the one, according to Wallace, who sets the tempo for the Hoyas. He struggled against Vanderbilt; he missed shots (0 for 4) and picked up silly fouls in Georgetown's 68-61 loss. Last year, Cook's shooting was the catalyst behind two of the Hoyas' best road wins; he made 7 of 12 shots (including all four three-point shots) and scored 23 points in a 67-64 victory at No. 16 Pittsburgh, and he had 23 points (again on 7-of-12 shooting) in a 61-56 win at Rutgers.
"If people forget about [Cook], he can score. He can take it to the basket and make shots," Thompson said. "If people want to focus on our interior guys, which has been the case, I feel comfortable that our guys on the perimeter can step up, and I feel comfortable that our interior guys will make the right decisions and not try to force things when they have teammates that are open."