Just Like Old Times
An undefeated start has Georgetown once again looking like the Beast of the East
For 17 seasons as an assistant coach, Craig Esherick sat quietly and nondescriptly next to John Thompson on Georgetown's bench, drawing even less attention than the white towel Thompson draped over his shoulder. Thus it was only natural that Esherick would feel a mite overwhelmed when he took over after Thompson suddenly resigned on Jan. 8, 1999, just as it was natural for the rest of the world to wonder whether this faceless, voiceless adjutant was up to the job he had unexpectedly inherited. "I was worried," Esherick concedes when asked how he felt that day. "Then I realized the only thing I needed to do was win, and that's the case no matter where you coach."
Normally that's easier said than done, but winning is all Esherick and the Hoyas have done in his second full season at the helm. When Georgetown defeated 18th-ranked Seton Hall on Monday night for the second time in 10 days, it improved its record to 16-0 (4-0 in the Big East), the second-best start in Hoyas history.
Just as the high-profile Thompson's best teams featured glamorous stars like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson, so this Georgetown club is reflective of the new man in charge. The ninth-ranked Hoyas have gone largely unnoticed during their winning streak—thanks in large part to their milquetoasty preconference schedule—but have thrived thanks to depth and good chemistry. Through Monday nine players were scoring between 12.6 and 7.1 points per game, and 10 were averaging at least 10 minutes. Even though four players who previously started are now coming off the bench and two freshmen are starters, nobody's complaining.
"It's easy to run a team like this," says junior point guard Kevin Braswell, who was averaging 6.9 assists (up from 5.3 his sophomore season). "Last year everybody thought he should score 20 every game. Now we understand that if we make the extra pass, we get a better shot."
Georgetown's glut of interchangeable parts also answers one of the questions about Esherick when he succeeded Thompson: Can he recruit? Esherick got off to a promising start by locking up every player who had given Thompson a commitment, including Mike Sweetney, who was then a 6'8" junior at Oxon Hill (Md.) High. That didn't seem like such a coup last spring, though, when Esherick popped in a videotape of the Capital Classic all-star game and was astonished to see that Sweetney had ballooned to well over 300 pounds. "I told him he would have trouble playing for me if he didn't do something about it," Esherick says. Sweetney shed nearly 50 pounds last summer during his twice-daily workouts on the Georgetown campus, and through Monday he was the Hoyas' leading scorer (12.6 points a game) and leading rebounder (7.5). One of Esherick's other recruits, 6'6" freshman Gerald Riley, from Milledgeville, Ga., has also been a pleasant surprise, chipping in with 9.8 points and 3.5 rebounds a game as a starter.
Thompson still attends many home games. Esherick, however, isn't about to start feeling overshadowed now. "It's an advantage to have Coach Thompson around because I can still bounce things off him," Esherick says. "I'm different than he is, but the way I coach is the same. I've also kidded him that if I start losing, it's his fault, too."
Notre Dame Beats UConn
The Story Of Ruth
On the grease board in the visitors' dressing room at the Joyce Center in South Bend on Monday, someone from Connecticut had written a formula to describe the matchup between the undefeated and top-ranked Huskies and unbeaten No. 3 Notre Dame: BIG GAME + SELLOUT + ESPN + ROAD TEST + UNDEFEATED = CRUSH JOB. Right formula, wrong room.
Before the first sellout crowd for women's basketball at Notre Dame and a national TV audience, not only did the Irish topple the Huskies 92-76 and end the longest women's winning streak in the nation (30 games), but they also forged a power shift in women's hoops. "I saw a feature on TV the other night about teams that might be able to beat UConn," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw after the victory, "and we weren't even mentioned."