Monday, February 28, 2011


At Verizon on Wednesday, talking to Georgetown alums after the tough loss to Syracuse on Saturday, and again tonight at Bender Arena, Georgetown's supporters voiced the same negative theme: the Hoyas have made too many reaches on local talent nice guys -- Jerrelle Benimon is not good enough to play in the Big East; DeMatha's Mikael Hopkins is not aggressive enough to play in the Conference and will not help the program; and making an offer to DeMatha's James Robinson was a mistake and a misguided effort to curry favor with local AAU teams and the WCAC.

The Benimon criticism kills me. As soon as Jerrelle is introduced, the grumbling starts. No matter where I sit in the stadium, inevitably someone will audibly, obnoxiously groan "Why does Thompson play him?" Benimon's numbers are pretty meager and he has not progressively built on the promise he's shown in a few performances, most notably against Memphis this year. But he always plays hard and, as a sophomore, his efforts and JTIII's obvious faith in Benimon should be enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Hopkins and Robinson criticism seems crazy. Admittedly, I've seen both play a grand total of two times -- Monday against St. John's and this afternoon against Paul VI in the WCAC Semifinals -- but I want to see how both develop under Georgetown's coaching staff.

The ESPN Profile of Mikael Hopkins includes this analysis of his perceived weaknesses:
Hopkins must be more physical and learn to welcome contact. At times he seems not into the game and untimely disappears on the floor. He is a very capable rebounder on both ends but at times watches the action instead of perusing the ball sometimes the only rebounds he gets are the one that come right to him. Hopkins must play with more energy and urgency on a consistent basis to obtain the production he is capable of.
From the limited sample set I have, that seems about right. But, two things are important to keep in mind in relation to this criticism: first, he is immensely physically gifted and is unquestionably a good high school basketball player and second, if he wants to fully harness those talents, he'll be able to do that at Georgetown and, if he does, he's going to be a very good D-I college player. This is a kid who got scholarship offers from Kansas, Texas, West Virginia, and Maryland. The fact that he is local means that Georgetown alums can dissect his game and its purported flaws up close. But that doesn't mean that their negative reaction somehow invalidates what is immediately evident to anyone who watches him play (he is a very talented basketball player).

The ability to see the player first hand also plays a huge role in the rush to denigrate James Robinson. Robinson may not decide to come to the Hilltop. He's got a ridiculous number of scholarship offers: at least five schools in the ACC (Maryland; UVa; NC State; Boston College; Wake Forest), at least six schools in the Big East (Gtown; WVa; Pitt; Marquette; Rutgers; and Notre Dame) and Oklahoma. Robinson's the type of prospect who is thinking about how to cut down the number of schools he's considering. But if he decides that Georgetown is the right place for him, color me excited. Indeed, the prospect of just getting to see Robinson for another season at DeMatha makes me happy.

Watching Robinson play basketball is a pleasure. He controls the game, makes good decisions on the floor, and is the type of player that makes everyone around him better. He's faulted for being slow, but he is able to beat opposing players off the dribble and can get to the rim fairly quickly. He's also a big point guard, who is not afraid of drawing contact or playing physically.

Today, DeMatha struggled with Paul VI. Josh Barr's summary for the Post correctly and appropriately focuses on the role Robinson played in avoiding an upset.

Setting to one side the future of Georgetown, both WCAC boys semifinals games were great. In the first game, Paul VI's junior guard Patrick Holloway very nearly beat DeMatha with a tremendous performance that had everyone at Bender buzzing. But as good as Holloway was, Bishop McNamara's senior guard (and WCAC boy's player of the year) Marcus Thorton was even better. A series of missed open perimeter shots put the Mustangs in a major hole against Gonzaga, but a frenzied comeback in the fourth quarter took place after Thorton's shots started falling. Thorton doesn't need a lot of space to get his shots up and when he hits a groove, he is deadly.

What I liked most about watching Holloway and Thorton (and most everyone on the floor) was the way they play. Thorton was hitting ridiculous shots and was pulling McNamara back into the game, but it would have been very difficult to tell from his reactions whether he had hit or missed the shot he just launched. I doubt that I could have ever show similar restraint, but as a neutral at the games, it is refreshing to see kids this talented approach the game with respect.

The DeMatha-Gonzaga final tomorrow night (8:30 pm at Bender) should be highly entertaining. Of all the players we saw today, I was most impressed by Gonzaga's Kris Jenkins. I would be surprised to hear that Jenkins plays in the final as an ill-considered late block attempt in the middle of McNamara's run seemed to have resulted in a bad injury that prevented Kris from putting weight down on his leg. Without Jenkins, Gonzaga misses a potent offensive post and perimeter threat.

Bender may be the place to be for DC Hoops fans tomorrow, but for me, the place to be is the Verizon Center for yet another chance to see Derrick Rose and the Bulls live.

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