Georgetown head coach John Thompson III found himself in unfamiliar territory at the end of the 2015-16 season.
For the first time in his coaching career – including four years at Princeton – Thompson endured a losing season. Making matters worse was the fact that his Hoyas were expected to make it back to the NCAA Tournament after being picked as the pre-season No. 2 team in the Big East last fall.
“There’s a lot of motivation,” Thompson told Today’s U at last week’s Big East media day about heading into the season with renewed hope. “(Losing) is not what I’m about. It’s not what this program is about.”
Amid high hopes and coming off a grueling non-conference schedule to toughen them up, the Hoyas never found their footing in the Big East last season. Georgetown finished a disappointing 7-11 in conference play (15-18 overall) and were kept out of postseason action.
“Last year was very difficult,” Thompson said. “I don’t take the approach of ‘let’s just forget about it, that’s just a blip.’ There were a lot of thoughts, a lot of introspection, and a lot of ‘let’s take a step back and look at and analyze everything’ and then move forward.
“We don’t want to go through this (season) picking at scabs from last year,” Thompson added. “But at the same time, in no way shape or form (we will) we say forget about it.”
Regardless of what happened last season, Thompson enters the 2016-17 with a lot of optimism. Fellow Big East coaches share some of that optimism, as they picked Georgetown to finish in fourth place (in a tie with Seton Hall) in the pre-season coaches poll.
While the Hoyas lose the services of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who was one of Georgetown’s most gifted guards, Thompson is bringing back practically his whole rotation as well as some key newcomers.
Among the key pieces back are junior forward Isaac Copeland (11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game), junior guard L.J. Peak (12.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game) and senior center Bradley Hayes (8.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game).
Copeland, in particular, could be primed for a break-out campaign. He is one of the conference’s bigger, versatile and multi-skilled forwards. He can bang with the big men of the league and take his game out to the perimeter.
In other words, he is a match-up nightmare.
Big East coaches agree, as they placed him on the pre-season all-Big East Second Team.
Copeland hopes to put last season’s troubles behind him and get back to the NCAA Tournament.
“Nobody likes to be sitting home in March,” Copeland said. “We were hurt a lot by it (losing). But we put in a lot of work this offseason. We’re very dedicated and very excited about this season.”
Last season, the sophomore class of Copeland, Peak, point guard Tre Campbell, forward Trey Mourning and forward Paul White (who has since transferred to Oregon) was expected to step up, but most suffered from some growing pains.
Thompson said the expectations placed on them was a mistake and that they have a different mindset heading into this season.
“We put unfair expectations on our sophomore class last year,” Thompson admitted. “(We) wanted them to perform at a level that they weren’t ready for. We all have had growth and hopefully we are ready for that (leap) we expected last year.”
Thompson also spoke about how his team will go about replacing Smith-Rivera at point guard.
Campbell is the one expected by most to take on the majority of the lead-guard duties. Thompson said that Smith-Rivera and Campbell are two completely different players, but he likes the progress Campbell has made.
“He has played well, he’s had a good offseason,” Thompson said.
Thompson said it may be a committee approach at point guard, as he likes what freshman Jagan Mosely, junior college transfer Jonathan Mulmore and Robert Morris transfer Pryor can bring to the position.
“Just as much as Tre, I think bringing in Jagan, Jon, and even Rodney to a lesser extent gives us more depth in the backcourt,” Thompson said. “Tre doesn’t have to worry ‘Oh, I have to really step up my game’. He does, but there is no pressure that if he doesn’t do it, no one can do it. We have more pieces, more bodies.
“I think the competition has helped everyone,” Thompson added. “There were stretches last year –particularly at the end –where we knew, no matter what, these guys had to play.”
Thompson also has a pair of potential X-factors in sophomore big men Jessie Govan (6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game) and Marcus Derrickson (7.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game). Both showed a lot of promise last season – Govan was named to the Big East all-freshman team – and both former four-star recruits have immense upside.
Thompson said they had “typical freshmen” seasons, both battling inconsistencies.
“Unfortunately for us, we depended on them to be up all the time,” Thompson said. “I think both of them are in the process of making the natural progression from freshmen to sophomores. I think both of them will be better this year than last year. To what degree? Time will tell.”
It’s all about turning the page for the Hoyas.
While Georgetown endured some humble lessons last season, it will harness what it learned and apply it to get back on its winning ways. Both Copeland and Thompson feel this is a different team.
“This year we’re a deeper team and very versatile,” Copeland said. “We can go 10-11 deep. That’s something we didn’t really have as much last year. A lot of people have more experience now and more skills; we worked harder. We’re a tighter group this year, too, I feel.”
“We are a very different team,” Thompson said. “Last year hurt without a doubt. It’s something we don’t want to go through ever again.’