The details are a bit fuzzy these days for Georgetown men’s basketball Coach John Thompson III about how he learned of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s intentions in late March to hire an agent and bypass his senior season for the NBA draft. According to Thompson, the first-team all-Big East guard either had spoken with the coach over the phone or paid a visit to his office at McDonough Gym.
Regardless, the conversation’s substance mattered much more than how or where it took place. The reality was the Hoyas, coming off a loss in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32, were facing the prospect of moving on without their most valuable player whose command of either guard position provided stability, leadership and timely scoring.
Then a peculiar set of circumstances unfolded in the following week. Smith-Rivera, upon consulting with his parents, reversed course. Getting his degree became the priority again, and if Smith-Rivera, on top of that, could make a run at the Big East championship and elevate his stock in the eyes of NBA scouts, then the decision to come back would make even more sense.
“The feeling of winning, I think that’s the thing,” Smith-Rivera said. “Once you get the feeling of winning, it’s kind of like you want to do it again. You want it more. As a team, we haven’t accomplished some of the things we’ve wanted to. Not to say we haven’t done a lot. We’ve won a lot of games. We’ve done a lot of great things, but we also know that we can get better, and we know we can do a lot more.”
It’s no wonder Smith-Rivera’s teammates were thrilled when he revealed he would be joining them again this season, which will begin Saturday against Radford at Verizon Center, in the Hoyas’ pursuit of a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Georgetown has not advanced beyond the first weekend in six appearances since 2007, when the Hoyas reached the Final Four in Thompson’s third year.
“I was pretty excited because he’s a big part of our team,” sophomore forward Isaac Copeland said of Smith-Rivera. “He makes the game easier for everybody else, so having a player like that on the team who can facilitate and score at the same time is great. He draws a lot of attention, and he has the ball in his hand every play pretty much setting up the offense.”
The rest of the Big East took notice too, with coaches picking the Hoyas to finish second behind reigning champion Villanova for a second straight season, in large part because of Smith-Rivera. The Hoyas’ leading scorer in each of the past two seasons also was selected preseason first-team all-Big East again this year in voting among conference coaches.
Had Smith-Rivera stayed committed to the NBA draft, Georgetown, with a severe shortage of options at guard, was looking at sophomore Tre Campbell as the primary ballhandler this season. Having Smith-Rivera back in the fold instead allows Campbell, who played point guard in high school at St. John’s, to continue acclimating at a measured pace.
A point guard with a wealth of meaningful experience is of particular importance this season with Georgetown sporting a youthful roster that includes nine underclassmen. Smith-Rivera is one of three seniors, along with center Bradley Hayes and guard Riyan Williams.
Illustrative of how important Smith-Rivera has been to the Hoyas was his 34.4 minutes per game last season. No other Georgetown player averaged more than 27.9 minutes. As a sophomore, Smith-Rivera played nearly 36 minutes per game.
In one of the signature performances of his career, Smith-Rivera played 42 minutes and scored 29 points during a 91-87 overtime win against Indiana at Madison Square Garden last season. The Hoyas rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit, with Smith-Rivera scoring 24 points after the break, including seven in overtime.
Smith-Rivera scored 29 points three times last season on the way to averaging 16.3 points per game. He also led the Hoyas, who made several appearances in the Associated Press top 25 rankings, in assists (3.2), free throw shooting (.861) and steals (1.6) and was third in rebounding (4.2).
“Having him back is good,” said Thompson, who’s had Jeff Green, Greg Monroe and Otto Porter Jr., among others, leave early. “I think he went about it the way he should. He made the right decision. I do remember telling him nothing is going to be easy, but as I said, he’s been exemplary. He’s been really, really good.”
Starting experience: Georgetown has back three starters, including Copeland and fellow sophomore L.J. Peak. Both were named to the Big East all-rookie team last season. Peak, a 6-foot-5 guard, was the Hoyas’ fourth-leading scorer (7.9 points per game) and played for the U.S. under-19 team that won gold at the world championship in Greece over the summer.
Copeland, a 6-8 forward, was Georgetown’s fifth-leading scorer (6.8) and fourth in rebounding (3.8). The Hoyas also got significant contributions from 6-8 forward Paul White (5.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.2 apg) and Campbell (3.4 ppg, 21-58 three-pointers), both sophomores.
Blue-chip rookies: Thompson has one of his most promising freshman classes, beginning with four-star recruit Jessie Govan. The 6-10 center arrives just in time presumably to move into the starting lineup following the departures of center Joshua Smith and center-forward Mikael Hopkins. Also recruited by Syracuse, Connecticut and N.C. State, Govan has the potential to be a consistent low-post scorer the Hoyas have been lacking.
Freshman Marcus Derrickson, a 6-7 forward, also is in line to play extensively. The District-born Derrickson attended Paul VI Catholic for his first three years of high school, helping the Panthers capture two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles. He also shined at points during the Hoyas’ summer trip to Italy, where they played four exhibition games.
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