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Once-Hated Hoyas Have a New Image as Crowd-Pleasers

The Washington Post

Not much, if anything, has changed regarding Georgetown’s approach to basketball. The names are different, but the Hoyas are still playing breakneck defense, contesting every pass and following Coach John Thompson’s every instruction.

But somehow, without any fundamental changes in style, Georgetown has gone from unquestionably the most hated team in the East, and maybe all of college basketball, to a team that is cheered on the road and seen as a scrappy underdog, even though the Hoyas (22-4 overall and 11-4 in the Big East) are again ranked in the top 10 and could be favored in next week’s Big East tournament.

Thompson was asked this week if he would rather have operated in this relatively congenial atmosphere than the combat zone of the early 1980s.

“I’ll take the situation with Patrick (Ewing) any day,” Thompson said, smiling but not joking. “This is different. But I very much enjoyed those teams. I enjoy this team, too. They’ve amazed me in some ways. ... I don’t know that this is better; it’s just different. Definitely different. These kids have accepted some challenges and done very well.”

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Tuesday night in Boston, a small but appreciative crowd of 6,722 at Boston Garden gave Reggie Williams a standing ovation after he scored 25 points to lead Georgetown to a 79-65 victory over Boston College. Late in the game, when Williams re-entered the lineup after a rest, he got an ovation. He said he couldn’t believe it.

Sunday afternoon in Syracuse, the first 26,000 fans received small white towels (mocking Thompson’s ritual of carrying a white towel to wipe perspiration). The expected frenzy of towel waving never took place, however. Thompson, when he walked on court with an orange beach towel, received an ovation -- the second time at the request of the public address announcer.

“It’s different from the old story,” Thompson said. “People clapping for Reggie on the road; usually we get boos. And it’s true, we do have a whole different perspective surrounding this team, because it’s a new team. People know that they’re young; they’re beating some people maybe I thought that they wouldn’t beat.”

In the old days -- 1981-85, better known as “The Ewing Era” -- Georgetown was expected to win. In the Carrier Dome, fans threw oranges while Ewing shot free throws two seasons ago. Thompson even wanted to pull the team from the floor, but didn’t think the players could make it safely to the locker room.

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The Hoyas were booed most vigorously in Boston, even though Ewing grew up there and Thompson played for the Celtics and nearby Providence College.

That’s why Reggie Williams said on Monday night: “It’s hard to believe they’re cheering for us here. We’re just used to hearing boos on the road.”

Obviously, without Ewing, the Hoyas are seen less as villains. They do have a seven-footer, Ben Gillery, but he rarely plays more than five minutes a game. The most aggressive player, Perry McDonald, is only 6-4.

Rick Pitino, the Providence coach, said: “There’s no question in my mind -- not a bit of doubt -- that John Thompson is coach of the year in the Big East. What he’s done is incredible.”

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In one postgame news conference early this season, Thompson wondered aloud if these players could compete with the best teams in the nation, or whether waiting until next year might be more reasonable.

“After we beat De Paul,” he said, “I started to say, ‘Now, wait a minute, we might be able to beat some of these folks. It’s time for me to get away from this low key thing and start to drive them more,’ and I did because, after that, I thought we could beat good teams.

“For a while, everybody was in neutral, looking at each other. But when Perry McDonald stepped up that made us a good team. That took a lot of pressure off a lot of people.”


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