Monday, March 22, 2004

Whither the Whats

As I joyously noted last week, Georgetown University fired men's head basketball coach Craig Esherick last Tuesday. I've been away from internet access for the past few days (that should be the next post), so I didn't catch the broader reaction to the firing. Since the athletic department is frankly pretty much all about G'town I care about these days, I thought I'd first link to the articles and then add my commentary.

First, the WashPost's Tom Boswell's column, talking about how wonderful a person Craig Esherick is. Great, wonderful, fine, it's nice to have such a wonderful person as a basketball coach. Unfortunately, he was a mediocre recruiter and a lousy coach, leader of teams that tended to play stupid. Singularly, any of those three could be overcome, but the combination was just deadly.

The real issue with the future of Georgetown basketball is raised by alum Pat Hruby in the WashTimes, and it really isn't limited to the basketball team. The University lacks a clearly defined identity. In the 1970's (and before), it was a Catholic school with Ivy-type pretensions and athletic programs. Then, John Thompson arrived in 1972 and by the early 80's had built a basketball power and raised Georgetown to a level of national prominence. Except he didn't do it within the confines of the university; they shared the 37th & O St. N.W. campus, but it always seemed a marriage of convenience between a basketball coach who wanted to make his mark his way, and an administration willing to give him what he wanted if they got the money they wanted.

After the great Ewing run of 3 national championship games in 4 years, though, the program didn't enjoy the same level of NCAA tournament success. The last real hurrah was the Elite Eight team of 1996, featuring Allen Iverson, Othella Harrington, and Jerome Williams, all three of whom would be first-round draft picks that year. Since then, the only NCAA appearances have been a first-round blowout loss to Charlotte the next year and a fluky Sweet Sixteen trip in 2001, thanks to a buzzer-beater in a win over Arkansas and facing MEAC school Hampton rather than #2 seed Iowa State. The story of the past 8 years, though, has been more tawdry than anything else, featuring more transfers than I can remember and memorable players such as Victor Page (longest suspension in the history of the CBA; declared for draft after sophomore season to avoid being kicked out), Ed Sheffey (97 in a 55, complete with dime bag), and Kenny Brunner (transferred to Fresno State and somehow got kicked off JERRY TARKANIAN's team, mock tryout for Highlander by attacking teammate with samurai sword), and, oh, I can't really bear it.

Anyway, right now Georgetown has the trappings (power conference, historic reputation, massive arena) of someplace that's still a college basketball power, but none of the substance (players, schedule, attendance, coaching, current reputation). Whoever comes in as the next coach will have to know whether he is expected to, and will have the resources to, become a college basketball power once again, or whether the expectation will simply be not to embarrass the university.

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