John Thompson III made his way over to the Verizon Center on Friday afternoon for Otto Porter's introductory press conference as the newest member of the Washington Wizards. No matter where Porter went in the 2013 NBA Draft - as many assumed, it was indeed third - Thompson knew he was going.
Losing Greg Whittington, again, not part of plan. Coming up with a new design that doesn't include primary players from the previous season, talk about a been there, done that scenario for Thompson.
Speaking last month with CSNwashington about Porter's future and the NBA Draft, Thompson expressed sincere optimism about his program's immediate future. The return of Whittington, a lengthy 6-foot-8 forward who missed the final 19 game s of last season due to an academic suspension, was a major reason why. CSNwashington first reported that Whittington would return from the suspension for the 2013-14 season.
Less than three weeks later, Thompson learned the Porter-less transition would take place without Wittington after the rising junior tore his left ACL. Before the suspension, Whittington, arguably Georgetown's top defender, ranked behind only Porter as the team's leading scorer and rebounder.
"I feel bad for him because he's worked extremely hard on and off the court since the first semester ended last year," Thompson said on Friday. "Now there is time added on to that so he'll continue to work hard as he prepares and rehabs."
Losing a top-3 NBA pick in Porter and an athletic forward with arguably a higher basketball ceiling in Whittington is a blow. Assuming Georgetown cannot come back from the combo punch is a mistake. The Hoyas have won at least 21 games and reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last four seasons despite a steady roster turnover due primarily to graduation and those headed to the pro game.
" I think the good thing is - Greg didn't play last year," Thompson said, focusing on the final 19 games of the campaign. After opening Big East play at 0-2 before Whittington's suspension, the Hoyas won 14 of 16 to share a piece of the regular season title with eventual national champion Louisville and Marquette.
"We just have to figure it out. One thing we've been pretty good at is being ready for the next guy, the next group to step up. We lose Chris [Wright], Austin [Freeman], Julian [Vaughn] and everyone's like, "ooooh, what are they going to do next year?'
"The next year we lose Jason [Clark], Henry [Sims] and Hollis [Thompson]. Again, 'ooooh, what are they going to do next year?' So, we lose Otto this year."
Thompson isn't dismissing Porter's departure, hardly. It's just that with all the other pieces coming back from last season's team plus new additions, he believes there are enough options left to keep Georgetown winning.
"The one thing that's been the case recently compared to other years is we're a veteran team," Thompson said, before ticking off the specific -and in at least one case, projected - components of the 2013-14 roster.
*"I think Markel [Starks], D'Vauntes [Smith-Rivera] and Jabril [Trawick] are as good as any three guards in the country. Our backcourt is pretty good."
Starks, Georgetown's leading returning scorer (12.8 ppg) and 3-point shooter (41.7 %), is now truly in the spotlight as the team's senior point guard and talkative leader. Smith-Rivera [8.9 ppg] showed he can score in bunches while Trawick provided the defensive energy. They are also motivated by the program's latest early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
Yet even with Thompson's belief in his talented three guards, he dismissed the idea of the trio forming a starting combination similar to the 2010-11 season with Freeman, Wright and Clark.
"I see those guys as a rotation in the backcourt," Thompson said. "In certain situations can those guys be on the court at the same time, yeah, but not like that [previous]group where they were the main cogs. I think it's going to be much different. We have too many other pieces."
Smith-Rivera served as the Hoyas sixth man last season, but played extensive minutes. Forwards Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins started all season in the frontcourt along with Porter, though neither provides consistent offense. Other starting options could include swingman Aaron Bowen, seldom-used freshman but highly regarded Stephen Domingo or...
*Thompson hopes those other pieces include former UCLA transfer Josh Smith. The 6-foot-10, 300-plus pound center is eligible to play for Georgetown starting the second semester of the upcoming season - and would do so as a senior. As it stands, Smith can play either the one semester or sit out the 2013-14 season and be eligible to play in both semesters of the 2014-15 campaign. The program has applied for a waiver, but is still waiting on a ruling from the NCAA.
Whenever Smith takes the court, he will provide a massive interior presence with scoring and passing skills. The kind Georgetown lacked last season and the kind NBA folks have taken a shine too at different stages of his career.
"I don't know why because he may be the biggest person in college basketball but I think the world is forgetting about big Josh," Thompson said. "We're going to have a low-post presence that's pretty formidable. Then you have experience with Nate. You have experience with Mikael. We're a veteran team. We'll figure it out. We've done a pretty good job of figuring it out."
*The retooled Big East conference officially opens for business on Monday. Outside of the obvious realigned look, one of the biggest changes involves the primary television coverage with the Fox Sports 1 taking over as the Big East's primary home. That doesn't mean the voices calling the game will be unfamiliar now that Bill Raftery is joining the new cable TV outlet. The longtime and popular college basketball announcer will team with Gus Johnson for regular season and Big East Tournament games.
" I think it's a good thing," Thompson said of Raftery remaining associated with the conference he once coached in at Seton Hall. "In my opinion, when you say the Big East you think of a core group of schools. You think of Georgetown, you think of Saint John's, you think of Villanova. You think of watching a Big East game, Raf is probably the person that comes to your mind first and foremost. He's been a part of this league from the coach's perspective, from in front of the camera perspective. We're glad to have him."