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It feels like old times at Georgetown: Coach John Thompson has the Hoyas sitting among the Big East's elite teams and competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament. But look more closely, and you'll see that much has changed. Coming off its worst season in 31 years, when it lost its last nine games to finish 13--15, Georgetown was picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the Big East this season. Instead the Hoyas, who start three freshmen, were in third place in the conference at week's end with an 8--3 record (16-6 overall). They had won seven of their last nine games and are on track to return to the Big Dance for the first time in four years.
The turnaround began last spring when coach Craig Esherick was shown the door and John Thompson III was hired after four years as the coach at Princeton. Thompson, 38, was an obvious choice given his tutelage under two of the college game's legendary figures: his father, John Thompson Jr., who led the Hoyas to three national championship games and one title during the 1980s; and Pete Carril, the longtime Princeton coach for whom the younger Thompson played and coached. "I am who I am," he says. "But Pops and Coach helped shape how I think, in life as well as basketball."
It comes as no surprise that Thompson has brought facets of Carril's famed Princeton offense--spacing, motion and lots of passing--to Georgetown. With the ball always on the move, versatility has become paramount. "Our center can do things a lot of guards are doing," Thompson says. "Everyone is interchangeable, and all of our sets can be adjusted according to our strengths and weaknesses." Junior forward Brandon Bowman leads the team in scoring (15.3 points per game) and steals (1.6) and is second in rebounding (6.7). Freshman forward Jeff Green, one of the country's top rookies, leads the Hoyas in rebounding (7.2) and assists (2.8) and is the No. 2 scorer (13.2).
Last Saturday, Bowman and Green combined for 36 points and 15 rebounds in a 67--60 win over West Virginia. Though the 6'8" bookends have carried the Hoyas, the other five members of the rotation have had their moments. On Jan. 15 at Villanova, senior swingman Darrel Owens hit two free throws with 0.1 on the clock to give Georgetown a 66--64 win. Eight days later against Notre Dame, junior guard Ashanti Cook pushed the ball the length of the court and found freshman center Roy Hibbert for a game-winning dunk just before the final horn.
A year ago the Hoyas would not have been in a position to win those games. "Their system comes along at a good time," says Irish coach Mike Brey, "because it's so drastically different from any other style in our league."
It's certainly a change from the intimidating, defense-oriented style made famous by the elder Thompson, who attends every home game and offers advice to the players and his son when he makes practice. Still, he recently told The Washington Post, "John's a far better coach than I was at this point in my career."
Whether that's true or not, Georgetown fans couldn't be happier. For last Saturday's game against West Virginia at the MCI Center, hundreds of students wore gray-and-blue T-shirts that said some have forgotten. we will remind them. Under the slogan, in bold type, was a subtle tribute to the person responsible for Georgetown's comeback: a giant Roman numeral iii.