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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Georgetown's Great Big Men, Today & Tomorrow

Roy Hibbert has always said that he wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Ewing, Mourning, and Mutombo (as opposed to White and Boumtje-Boumtje, I suppose). Well, I think he is well on his way to doing that. If he can take the Hoyas back to the Final Four this year, he will have certainly installed himself on the Hoyas' Mt. Rushmore. As for a fifth spot in that Pantheon (I know I'm mixing metaphors like crazy but there are only 4 heads on the mountain!), I think we may have a beat on who could fill it...and he already shares a name with a president. Both Hibbert and Greg Monroe, just as importantly, sound like great guys and great students in these two profiles.

Skills, not just size, make Hibbert campus' big man

Roy Hibbert disputes the notion he is Big Man on Campus. "I'm not the star of this team," he says modestly — and incorrectly. Forget about stars, Roy. You're 7-2! "Oh," he says, smiling broadly. "You mean that." Hibbert is Big Man at Georgetown, a campus where some of the great big men of basketball history have played. Celebrated centers such as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo performed here for John Thompson Jr., a Big Man among coaches.
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Hibbert probably would have been taken later in that first round had he decided to come out. He considered it but says he decided to stay because he wanted to graduate, play another year in college and be better prepared for the rigors of the NBA. "It was the best thing for myself and my family," he says. Some players score a big contract as first-round draft choices, he says, but never make it to the second contract where the bigger money is. That's part of why he stayed: He says he has more to learn. "Roy just wants to get better," Thompson III says. "He wants to improve. And he wants to help his team improve." Where, exactly, does Hibbert need to improve? "Offense and defense," Thompson III says with a straight face — then bursts out laughing. "That's how I feel," the coach says. "I think he's a very good offensive player and a very good defensive player. At the same time, in small facets of both, he can improve, and that's what we're striving for."

Hibbert remembers coming to Georgetown when he was in high school to play in pickup games against Michael Sweetney, the Hoyas' top Big Man of the time. "He pushed me around," Hibbert says. Sometimes Ewing and Mourning would be there, and they would push him around, too. But they also encouraged Hibbert to bring his size-18 sneakers to Georgetown. He came from Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit high school in Washington's suburbs. He was a project — 295 pounds but weak enough that he bench-pressed just 135. He was awkward, slow and raw: Thompson Jr. called him "The Big Stiff." "Among other things — and it was not jokingly," Thompson III says, chuckling. "But he has come a long way. He's blessed with size. He's blessed with good hands and vision. And he has worked extremely hard in every aspect of the game." Today he weighs 275 and says he bench-presses 225. He's gotten quicker, more agile and more skilled. His improvement can be measured in his scoring and rebounding averages: 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds as a freshman, 11.6 and 6.9 as a sophomore, 12.9 and 6.9 as a junior. Ohio State beat Georgetown in the national semifinal before losing to Florida in the championship game. Hibbert played well against Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden, who was the first player taken in the NBA draft. Hibbert did not get pushed around, winning the statistical war (19 points, six rebounds and one block to Oden's 13 points and nine rebounds). "Roy is not worried about comparing and contrasting himself to Greg Oden or to anyone else," Thompson III says. "Did he play well that day? Obviously. But I don't look at that as, 'Ooh, Roy had a great game.' That's how Roy played all year. It just happened to be that because of who the opposition was, more people took notice."

Few noticed this summer as Hibbert played on the U.S. team that finished fifth in the Pan Am Games. Alabama's Richard Hendrix hung a nickname on Hibbert at the trials in Philadelphia. "He called me The Governor," Hibbert says, laughing. Hibbert is majoring in government. Hendrix wanted to know if that meant Hibbert might run for governor some day. Hibbert says you never know. He takes courses in international relations. The U.S. Department of Education offered a summer internship that he says he turned down with regret because of his obligations to Team USA. He says Georgetown is an ideal place for students with an interest in government. It's also a good place for 7-2 students with an interest in basketball. Where does today's Big Man on Campus stand in the pantheon of great big men of Georgetown's storied past? "I think it's too early to say," Thompson III says. "He has wanted to be viewed as one of the premier Georgetown big men. Where he fits in the hierarchy is something we'll look at down the line."

Top-recruit Monroe has good head on shoulders

In case you've been on another planet for the past week, or don't care about such things, the 6-foot-10 senior made a pretty big decision Saturday, announcing he'll play at Georgetown. The significance is that making the decision early was a very smart, mature thing to do for a kid that, as Cox Coach Tyron Mouzon said, wants to enjoy his senior year the way a senior is supposed to. "It was a hard decision before, but once I got up there and saw everything and met with all the players and coaches, it was pretty easy after that," Monroe said.
"The way I felt was, if I knew what I was going to do, I wasn't going to waste their time or waste my time, either. When all of (the coaches) came in-home (to visit), they all said the same thing. They all said if you take your visits and you get to one and you know that's where you want to go, stop. So I just took their advice." Probably, a couple of them now wish they'd have shut up. "He says he's comfortable with the decision, that he feels relief that it's over," Mouzon said. Now, announcing intent doesn't magically assure Monroe will be left alone. Until he signs on a dotted line, scheduled to occur Nov. 16 at Cox, all the coaches who were after him before Coach John Thompson III and the Hoyas made their winning pitch likely will continue to be after him, pulling and tugging and hoping he'll change his mind, and perhaps change their programs. The early signing period runs from Nov. 14 through Nov. 21. That gives coaches about another month to plead, and heaven only knows what would happen if he postponed signing and waited until the spring signing period (April 16 through May 21).
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"The whole process is kind of stressful," Monroe said. "It's long. To get it over is good. I'm just going to stay strong, hold on to my decision. I'm not going to let anybody change my decision. Just keep levelheaded. I'm sure that's the right choice, so I'm going to stick with it." Said Mouzon: "He's very different from a lot of high-profile athletes his age. He doesn't have a lot of hangers-on, doesn't have a posse. He doesn't like a lot of limelight, and the kids (at Helen Cox) have been used to seeing him since sixth grade. "In a way, they don't quite get it. Oh, they know who he is and they know he's a big-time basketball player. But there are more people all over him at AAU tournaments than at school." Hopefully, fewer of them will be all over Monroe now that he has announced a decision. Theoretically, that's the way it's supposed to work. Once an athlete takes himself off the market, prospective suitors are supposed to leave him alone.

Since that's not going to be the case, all the athlete can do is make a decision and stick with it. Maybe, even, Monroe gave himself a chance to keep being a kid a little longer. "I was missing a lot of -- not really important things -- but things that students get to do," Monroe said. "This weekend, I would have been missing my homecoming, and this is my last homecoming."

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