John Thompson III's Georgetown squad is winning lots of hearts in February
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WASHINGTON -- Former Georgetown coach John Thompson was holding court in the hallway after a game last week when junior forward Jeff Green strolled by.
"Hey, what month is it?" said Thompson, his booming voice bringing Green to a halt.
"February," Green answered.
"Whose month is February?" Thompson said.
"Georgetown's," Green said with a broad smile as he walked away.
"We used to call it Georgetown February," Thompson explained. "We knew that was Georgetown's month."
This year, the school's Hall of Fame coach must be experiencing a flashback to those Februarys when he was leading the Hoyas through countless late-season runs. Under his son, John Thompson III, 14th-ranked Georgetown has recovered from an early slump to win eight consecutive Big East Conference games -- its longest Big East streak since the 1988-89 season, when Alonzo Mourning was a freshman.
"That's a great team that everyone should enjoy watching," said West Virginia coach John Beilein, whose Mountaineers were blown away in the first half of a 71-53 loss at the Verizon Center Monday night.
The Hoyas (19-5, 9-2) were a top-10 preseason team, but home losses in November to Old Dominion and Oregon sent their stock plummeting. Now they are as good as previously advertised and maybe even better, having dominated top-tier Big East teams Louisville, Marquette and West Virginia in a six-day span. The average margin of victory during the eight-game winning streak is 16 points.
"We're playing well," Green said. "But we could be much better."
That's as strong a pronouncement as you'll get from the current team. Thompson III has a laid-back set of players, and the coach himself is notorious for avoiding abstract, big-picture sentiments. It's hard to get him to brag about his team much beyond the standard "we have improved."
"We're still sitting at the table," Thompson III said. "When the day ends, we'll pick our heads up and see how we did. But, right now, we're still in the thick of things."
But the coach is quick to point out the maturation of a team whose fortunes rise and fall according to the play of the frontcourt duo of Green and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. Throwback big man Hibbert has been virtually unstoppable lately, scoring 20 points or more in three consecutive games. He is the only Division I player in the country shooting better than 70 percent from the field.
"We've got to start with Roy and work our way out, because he's the leader of this team," Green said. "We run through him."
Oh, yeah? That's not what Hibbert said. After all, Green is the more versatile big man, able to nail a 3-pointer or drive the lane for an emphatic dunk.
"It'd be Jeff. Jeff Green," said Hibbert, when asked to name the leader of the team. "We go back and forth, but I say Jeff Green is."
Green, perhaps the team's most laid-back player, was criticized for being too passive early in the season. Hibbert, meanwhile, wasn't getting the ball enough.
But the team as a whole was trying to find its rhythm. There were two new starters, and returning starter Jonathan Wallace was asked to play a different role in a Princeton offense that isn't easy to master.
"They changed a lot of significant parts to this team in new guys coming in," the elder Thompson said, "so it's a normal tendency for Jeff and Roy to try to help the new guys, and to try to show them what they're doing. And now I think they sense normalcy. They're now dealing with it a little differently. Both of them are becoming more aggressive."
There are four games remaining in February, including a showdown with Pitt Feb. 24 that could determine the regular-season Big East champion. Thompson III always has stressed the goal of building toward this time of year, although, unlike his dad, he's not the kind of coach who is going to motivate his players with a theme such as "Georgetown February."
"We've talked about it a little bit, but not as much," Thompson III said. "When Pops was here, they had a long history of having success in February. But, in my three years, we've had some hiccups in February, also."
First Published February 14, 2007 12:00 am