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Georgetown's Angels Aren't Just Ghosts

February 17, 1988|JOHN FEINSTEIN | The Washington Post

Next year, normalcy will return to Georgetown. The Hoyas will be ranked in the top 10--perhaps the top five. John Thompson will have a player everyone wants to talk to--and about--and will allow neither. Teams will come to the Capital Centre expecting to lose and, most of the time, will do just that.

Thompson will be very much in the national spotlight. He will have just coached the U.S. to an Olympic gold medal in Seoul and he will have the most touted freshman in the country, Alonzo Mourning, playing center. Georgetown will be the favorite to win the Big East, and when Thompson hears that news in November he won't grumble as he did a year ago that "these people are voting for a damn ghost."

The ghost in question then was Patrick Ewing, the centerpiece--and center--of the four Georgetown teams that won 121 games, reached three Final Fours and won the national title in 1984. Ghost or no ghost, that Georgetown team of a year ago won the Big East, won 29 games and came up one game shy of the Final Four. Thompson dubbed them "Reggie and the Miracles" at midseason. The name stuck and the miracles didn't run out until Providence lit up Freedom Hall with a barrage of three-pointers in the Southeast Regional final.

Reggie Williams is gone now, but The Miracles remain. So do the miracles. The Hoyas, a gang that can't shoot straight, are 17-6, including 7-5 in the Big East. They have beaten Syracuse, the consensus favorite to win the national title, twice. They have beaten conference leader Pittsburgh and won at De Paul. They have also won eight nonconference games against the likes of Hawaii-Loa and St. Leo while continuing to refuse to play local teams. But that is another issue for another day.

Thompson started the season worried that he would be distracted by his job as Olympic coach and not give this team the attention it deserved. When the Hoyas lost three straight league games last month, Thompson admits he got depressed and wondered if it might be time to focus on the future -- his and Georgetown's.

"But then I realized that it would be unfair for me to give up on the kids on this team because they have never given up on me," he said. "I suppose it would be easy to look ahead and just say, 'This team just can't get it done,' and let it go at that. But it wouldn't be right. I just decided to work as hard as I could, because I know these kids have done that, and see what happened."

What has happened is a three-game winning streak with a suddenly crucial game at Pittsburgh coming up Saturday. The Hoyas shouldn't win that one, either. But they might. "What this team does is play defense as hard as anyone can play defense," Thompson said Monday night after Georgetown had beaten Villanova, 56-54, in a game that had people wondering if Arena Football had been revived in Washington. "The way we played defense tonight some of the teams we've had in the past might have been ahead by 20 points at halftime. Instead, we were up one. This team isn't going to blow anybody away because it has trouble scoring."

The only reason the Hoyas score at all in their half-court offense is Charles Smith. He has emerged as the offensive threat for this team three years after Thompson told him he would never be a starter if he chose to come to Georgetown. Smith came, partly because he was lightly recruited (Seton Hall and Indiana State) but more because Thompson has built one of those rare programs that attracts players just by existing. Like Dean Smith and Bob Knight, Thompson doesn't recruit. He selects. Fortunately for him, he selected Smith.

"Charles is very unusual because he can be stopped and then create something for himself," Thompson said. "Because of that, a lot of the shots he makes look ugly. When he made the shot at Syracuse (a scoop in the lane to win the game at the buzzer) I told people it wasn't lucky, it was the kind of shot that Charles makes. There are a lot of kids who if they took the kind of shots that Charles takes, I'd curse them out. Not Charles, though. He has a knack."

Maybe then this team should be called, "Charlie's Angels." Smith scored 22 points Monday and the rest of the Angels produced 34. That was eight points less than the 64 Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino told his team it needed to hold the Hoyas to in order to win. The Wildcats lost because, like so many other teams, they couldn't handle Georgetown's pressure.

"When we played them in Philadelphia (a 64-58 Villanova victory) they played a lot of triangle and two," Massimino said. "That meant we always had someone available to pass to. Tonight, they played almost all man and we just couldn't get into our offense. They did a really good job."

Villanova, an excellent three-point shooting team, shot zero for seven from three-point range, because the shot was never an open one.

Which brings us back to Thompson. To say that Georgetown teams take their cue from him is like saying the clock at Capital Centre breaks down a lot. No one connected with Georgetown breathes without Thompson's permission. That doesn't make the Hoyas the most quotable group in the world but it does help make them hell to play against.

Someone asked him Monday where this team might be without Smith. "I haven't really thought about it," he said. "In this program, someone usually steps forward."

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