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Less talent, better team makes Georgetown top 10

By Joseph White
AP Sports Writer / February 17, 2012
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WASHINGTON—Given how basketball has become such a star-driven sport, Georgetown's unexpected rise this season is a bit out of the mainstream.

The Hoyas have gone from picked to finish 10th in the Big East in the preseason by conference coaches to ranked No. 10 in the country -- and they've done it without an above-the-title name.

It's not "Greg Monroe and the Hoyas" or "Jeff Green and the Hoyas" or even "Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Hoyas," it's an amalgamation of guys wearing gray and blue who usually play good enough defense to overcome the offense's dry spells.

"They were more talented last year," South Florida coach Stan Heath said after a 30-point loss to Georgetown two weeks ago, but are a "much better team this year."

It's sometimes takes an outside voice like Heath's to state the obvious, but the Hoyas concur. With all due respect to departed seniors Freeman and Wright -- who last year led the Hoyas to a 21-11 record and another early flameout in the NCAA tournament -- this year's team has a better chemistry.

"It wasn't all roses last year," senior center Henry Sims said. "We've grown from that.

"This year we've just bought into the philosophy of playing hard, playing defense together," he said. "Being a team on the court, being able to pick each other up on the court, being able to talk to each other on the court. I think it's just a different mindset, a different environment, a different philosophy, that we've brought this year as opposed to the last few years."

Coach John Thompson III loves it, and it shows.

He's taken a team heavily reliant on youth -- the roster has only two seniors and one junior -- and has taught it to play solid team defense and unselfish offense. The Hoyas (19-5, 9-4) have held five Big East teams to 50 points or fewer headed into Saturday's game at Providence.

"Not that he wasn't into it last year, but I think one thing that's different about this team -- not to criticize last year's team -- is that when people break off of the offense this year, it's to get somebody else a shot," sophomore forward Nate Lubick said. "Rather than last year, if somebody was breaking out of our offensive sets, it was kind of to get their own shot.

"And as a coach, that's all you can ask for, so you can see that he's just having more fun coaching."

Added Sims: "I've seen that in the past, him enjoying it, but I definitely see a lot more this year, especially since we have a lot of guys that buy into his philosophies of playing hard, preaching defense first. We all feel the same way. Since I've been here, this has been one of the times where he's convinced that everybody is really ready to step up and really ready to play."

Thompson himself is reluctant to make such comparisons. His tunnel vision, or perhaps an unwillingness to criticize former players, kept him from giving a response to South Florida coach Heath's comment.

"I'm not sure," Thompson said. "I like our team this year. I'm thinking about this year's team, not last year's team."

Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and Sims are the leading scorers, and all have shown the ability to get hot and swing the momentum when needed, but it's usually because someone has made a steal, blocked a shot or grabbed a rebound at the other end.

Such teamwork manifests itself off the court. Teammates were on hand Wednesday night, for example, to support sophomore guard Markel Starks at his debate as a candidate for vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association.

"We all hang together, joke and laugh together," Sims said. "We all trust each other, believe in each other. I think that definitely has showed this year. It has helped us probably get a couple of wins."

Starks hopes to be a congressman one day, an interest that first piqued during middle school when he had to study the 2004 presidential debates for a history class. He definitely has the personality for it -- and, by all accounts, had the room laughing during the debate.

"I can definitely see that in Markel," said Sims, an unsuccessful GUSA vice-presidential candidate himself last year. "He's a people-orientated person. He's a good speaker."

As the team's resident politician, it seemed only appropriate to Starks to weigh in on the topic of last year's talented team vs. this year's well-bonded team.

"I thought we had a very good team last year," Starks said. "I just think at times we couldn't put all that talent together."

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Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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