The Van Buren Boys

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Georgetown as the new Duke

This is the thesis advanced over at Big East Hoops.

JTIII is transforming Georgetown into the next Duke. It is the next school where you play “the right way” and the media continuously speaks about the upstanding young men. The similarity between the schools is already there — both private, upper middle class universities where basketball is the sport that students follow. And now Georgetown is the Duke of recruiting — besides Greg Monroe, JTIII has also successfully recruited Jason Clark, center Henry Sims and power forward Chris Braswell — all top 100 recruits. I used to wonder how someone could be a Duke fan — the uppityness and being the perennial favorite because of recruiting…how can it be fun rooting for Goliath? But now, I sort of understand.

This is a provocative thesis and an idea that I've had in the back of my head for a long while. Originally, I advanced this theory when JTIII had just arrived on the Hilltop and the Hoyas were in the mix for Eric Boateng. At that time, it appeared that Coach K would be moving out to Los Angeles to coach the Lakers. It seemed to me that we could be witnessing a power shift on the East Coast. Georgetown and Duke have very similar academic profiles, obviously, and play in arguably the two best basketball conferences, year in and year out. Many fans of both teams trace Duke's 1990s rise and Georgetown's swoon to the 1989 Elite Eight game where Duke bested the team of the 1980s to become the undisputed team of the 1990s. I thought maybe the pendulum would swing back. Well, Mr. Boateng chose Duke and that worked out just about as well as his fellow Delaware all-state team member Josh Thornton's selection of Georgetown. (Eric now plays for Arizona State, while Josh is a Towson Tiger.) And, of course, Coach K stayed in Durham. That bring us to January 21, 2006--a game that IPB, Stallion and I all attended--and the game which trumpeted Georgetown's return to the national scene. Since that game, Georgetown has been to a Sweet 16 and Final Four, and has won a Big East regular season championship, as well as a Big East tournament championship. It has also successfully recruited three McDonald's All-Americans and, now, the #1 recruit in the nation. While Duke certainly hasn't fallen off the face of the earth (and remains one of the best programs in the country), one would be hard pressed to claim that, since that game, Duke has outperformed Georgetown. But, more importantly, I think Duke's rise can serve as a model for Georgetown's.

What does that mean? Well, first, it means that the basketball team should be used to sell the university, not just the university's gear. Duke always used its PR department beautifully to advance the notion that its basketball stars were also students and good ones at that. It sold the idea of Duke as a top-flight academic institution, as well as a basketball powerhouse. Was a lot of this smoke and mirrors? Sure. But it worked and one can't argue with the likes of Shane Battier or Grant Hill. They were tendered as the models of Duke basketball (as opposed to some of the less savory fellows who attended Duke).

Georgetown has already made huge progress in this direction. Last year the Washington Post ran a front page article on how studious all of the Georgetown student-fans were and numerous articles and commentators pointed out that Georgetown basketball players wore suits, were well-spoken, disciplined, etc. They also interacted well with "normal" students, as did the Coach and his staff. (I recall one piece even pointing out that the players had very few tattoos.) On top of this, Georgetown has gotten good at releasing fluff pieces about players getting internships on the Hill or, for instance, on Roy's support for Senator Obama. Beyond that, I've noticed that a number of players are majoring in decidedly more difficult Georgetown fields like Government (Roy and Jon) or Business (DeJaun), as opposed to only Sociology. (GU does not have majors especially designed for athletes so no Kinesiology here, thank you very much.) Greg Monroe also fits perfectly into this mold.

This idea of having "smart" players also works its way on to the basketball court, where GU runs one of the most intricate offenses around. It doesn't hurt that this offense is named for one of the best universities in the world. It is refreshing that Georgetown players like Jeff Green and Jon Wallace are described as having high basketball IQs, as opposed to white players on the team. While we want to project an imagine of intelligence, Georgetown should not do so by playing into the old racist canard of the smart white player versus the athletic black player. This is, after all, John Thompson's program and we don't need to play that game. Indeed, JTIII's offense and persona is going a long way to eradicating it. I have a feeling that Duke intentionally played in this stereotype for some time. That's a harsh charge to level, though, so I'll hold my fire....

Of course, the most important way in which Georgetown can emulate Duke is through constant recruiting, pulling in 5-star recruit on top of 5-star recruit. There is no doubt that JTIII is a tireless recruiter and is indeed matching Duke blow for blow at this early point in his career.

Additionally, JTIII is laying a foundation for his eventual departure--whether that be in 10, 20 or 30 years. In three years he has already produced two head coaches (Broadus and Syd Johnson at Princeton). He will undoubtedly produce more. And when JTIII moves on, the most successful among them will be the heirs apparent. Coach K was once in that position but Amaker and Quinn are no longer hot prospects, and Brey looks like he could be in trouble. That said, no one can argue that K hasn't produced an impressive coaching tree.

Finally, there is the person of John Thompson III. Like Coach K, JTIII graduated from one of the country's best schools (West Point vs. Princeton). Like Coach K, he studied under one of the great basketball minds of the 20th century (Bob Knight vs. Pete Carrill). JTIII exudes class and intelligence, while not surrendering his unwavering passion for winning. He has the respect of the students and alumni--so much so that he is quickly becoming the personification of the university itself, much like Coach K at Duke.

So, what is the problem with the Georgetown as Duke thesis? Well, Georgetown still has some unaddressed areas that must be solidified before we can say we've arrived. I'm not talking about performance on the court, because we all know that national championships and final fours are necessary. But there are institutional matters that must be addressed to achieve what JTIII has said he wants to do at Georgetown--to build a program. Although his father had tremendous success, he never built a program that could sustain itself. That is, there was no coaching tree to speak of, no on campus practice or playing facilities of note, and not a tremendous amount of self-sustaining alumni support. We were left with Esherick and a pretty empty cupboard until JTIII came back and saved the Hoyas.

As I see it, here are the issues that JTIII, Jack DeGioia and the alumni will need to address in the next 2 or 3 years, if Georgetown does want to be the new Duke.

First, JTIII needs to be at Georgetown long-term. His new contract, while certainly competitive with other coaches who have made Final Fours (Brady at LSU, for example), is not on the generous side and, I suspect, will shortly be too little for a coach of his ability. Georgetown must be prepared to re-up in a big way if the Hoyas have the success we all expect this year. I don't think JTIII is looking to go anywhere any time soon, but DeGioia would be very wise to lock him up and that means a contract closer to $1.5 million than to $900,000.

Second, and this is the most difficult one, the facilities issue must be addressed. Not only should the university move ahead with the practice facility with all deliberate speed, but an on-campus area must also be in the pipeline. I know that it is not, for now, and I understand why, but it must become a priority sooner rather than later. An 8,000 person arena will give Georgetown great leverage in negotiating with the Verizon Center and permit virtually all games (whether on-campus or at Verizon) to be sell-outs. Further, there is something to be said to striking while the iron is hot. Corporate sponsorship is available for sporting venues like nothing else. A team that is doing as well as any in the country and one that plays in a major media market should be an attractive target for corporate sponsorship. Beyond that, with all the good feelings toward the program, it may be time to tap all of the alumni who have made millions after graduating from the Georgetown basketball program and the former NBA stars whose sons have played on the team. The arena cannot be a pipe dream for much longer.

Finally, Georgetown must work with its basketball peers to secure the long-term viability of the Big East. The Big East is a fantastic conference but some of the football schools (Cuse in particular) are evidently restless. Georgetown can play a role in keeping it together and (at the very worst) making sure that historical basketball powers like itself and Nova are not jettisoned in a split. I have my doubts about the league ever breaking up so long as it is inking lucrative deals with ESPN, but that situation bears monitoring. As long as Georgetown is riding high and JTIII is the head coach, I think things will shake out well on the Hilltop. I would worry if I were St. John's though....

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Georgetown as the new Duke. I'd love to hear what the rest of you think. Hopefully, somewhere in McDonough long-term plans to solidifying what JTIII has already accomplished are being generated. I don't want to live through 1998-2004 again.


donald said...

Great job with breaking down all the similarities -- clearly, you have thought through this way more than I have.

I agree that the most important thing for Georgetown to do is to get an on-campus stadium. Off-campus places like the Verizon Center or the Hartford Civic Center just aren't the same.

I'd definitely be more interested in hearing your thoughts on the Big East as a conference. You seem to know much more about the business side of that than I do. Maybe that's an idea for a guest post...

Diamond_Mike said...

I don't really know how the whole conference thing is going to shake out. My hunch is that there won't be any change in the foreseeable future. I believe this a few reasons:

1) The "football schools" are able to negotiate their TV deal separately from the "basketball schools." It is entirely unclear to me how they could do better on the basketball side than they do now.

2) Even if the football schools wanted to break away and form a new league, an 8-team league is pretty small, and there is no viable 9th on the horizon.

3) The basketball schools appear to be the future of the basketball league. Boeheim and Calhoun are getting old and there is no reason to believe that either UConn or Cuse will still be a powerhouse after they leave. On the other hand, Marquette, Nova, and Georgetown, along with L-ville, are the future of the league. Over the last two years, as a whole the basketball schools are performing just as well, if not better, than the football schools.

4) The league is great! This is the best basketball league ever created. I don't think there is any good reason for pulling it apart. The 18-game schedule answers my complaints and the three repeat games permit for the maintenance of historic rivalries and for high-profile TV match-ups.

Diamond_Mike said...

By the way, this is how Andy Katz sees the power balance in the league:

"The Big East doesn't need the New York-area schools to stay atop in the country. But the Big East did need a renaissance in the District. Georgetown is a national name. St. John's, Seton Hall and Rutgers are not. The Hoyas who are now shaping up to be a league title rival with Louisville for years to come. (Memo to Syracuse, Pitt, Connecticut, Marquette and Villanova: The chase to stay with Louisville and G'town is on.)"