Vox Interview: JTIII on Otto, Greg, and the new Big East

John Thompson IIIThe leaves aren’t yet changing and most Hoyas are opting for the shorts instead of sweaters these days, but, for one figurehead on the Hilltop, November is fast approaching.

Amid his busy recruiting schedule, Georgetown Men’s Basketball Head Coach John Thompson III took the time to discuss numerous off-season topics surrounding his program, especially Otto Porter’s departure to the NBA, the new Big East, and the strength of this season’s squad.

The biggest storyline to emerge from the Hoyas’ offseason is the departure of sophomore forward Otto Porter to the NBA—selected third overall by the Washington Wizards in this past June’s NBA Draft. Porter, whose accolades last year included Big East Player of the Year and First Team All-American, was the single most important reason for the Hoyas’ success last season and has left many of the Georgetown faithful bittersweet with his exit. But don’t count JTIII in that group. The veteran coach tells Vox he’s elated at his one-time star’s success.

“I think we went into this year knowing that this could happen if he had the kind of year that I anticipated him having,” Thompson said. “There’s nothing bittersweet about it.”

Although Thompson expects Porter to be an asset for the Wizards from the beginning, he anticipates it will take some time for the Missouri native to be comfortable in the big league.

“Otto can contribute right away, but there’s definitely going to be a learning curve. It’s a totally different game. The court is smaller and the bodies are bigger, stronger, and faster. He’s going to go through a learning curve similar to what Bradley Beal went through last season … Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman has to figure out what he wants Otto to do and Otto and will have to figure that out.”

Thompson feels that Porter, like all rookies, will have to improve many aspects of his game once he enters the league. However, he does not doubt that Porter will adjust successfully to the NBA, as he compared him to Indiana Pacers All-Star swingman Paul George.

“He’s going to have to work on everything,” said Thompson. “He has the responsibility, with the skills he’s been blessed with, to work hard on everything. I think Otto’s going to be a very good pro. It’ll be an adjustment. That’s true for all rookies. But I think that Otto’s skill set, understanding, and his work ethic will make him a very good pro.”

When asked if Porter is the best player he has coached in his tenure at Georgetown, Thompson declined to answer.

“I don’t get into answering those questions,” Thompson replied, laughing.

While Thompson is entering his 10th year at Georgetown, the new Big East Conference will begin its inaugural season. Despite the predominantly negative reaction to the conference realignment that has engulfed intercollegiate athletics, Thompson is pleased to start this season in the new conference, which was spawned by the basketball-only members of the original Big East after the mass exodus of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Louisville to the ACC. He feels the league will demonstrate its strength and competitiveness early on and that the new conference will be very beneficial for Georgetown.

“I’m extremely excited to move on with this next phase of the Big East,” Thompson said. “I think the world will quickly see that our basketball and our league is among the best in the country … Change happens. You can’t control it. Intercollegiate athletics is going through an evolution. We have landed in a place that’s best for Georgetown and that’s best for the Big East. I’m excited about it.”

Although the entirety of their schedule has not been released yet, the Hoyas have announced some of their non-conference matchups. The Hoyas will face Oregon on Nov. 8 in the Armed Forces Classic and recently announced their participation in the Puerto Tip-Off, whose playing field includes Michigan, Florida State, and VCU. However, the Hoyas toughest early season test will most likely be when they play at Kansas in late December, a matchup that will pit them against the nation’s number one incoming freshman, Andrew Wiggins, whom many have proclaimed to be the next LeBron James. Coach Thompson looks forwards to these challenges.

“We’ve always played a difficult non-conference schedule. … We’ve always challenged ourselves and challenged the kids. We’ve always tried to have some difficult and exciting games that challenge our guys and, at the same time, get the most exposure for the program.”

In other news this off-season, junior forward Greg Whittington tore his ACL during a pick-up game in workouts. Although Thompson does not have a timetable for his return, he believes the otherwise horrible incident for Whittington could be one he learns a lot from.

“I have no idea about when he will return. That’s something that’s in the doctor’s hands and his hands,” Thompson said. “He will not play one second before our medical team says he’s 100 percent healthy and he feels 100 percent comfortable going out on the floor. I’m confident that when he comes back, he will be a better player and person for it.”

As a result of Whittington’s potential absence for the entirety of this season, Thompson expects everyone on the team to step up and fill his void.

“We will figure it out. We have people that now have to step up collectively. There’s no one person. As a group, we are going to have to adjust, adapt, and figure out how to win.”

Despite Porter’s departure for the NBA and Whittington’s injury, Thompson feels his team’s biggest strength this year will be its experience.

“For the first time, even with Greg going down, we have a veteran group. Markel Starks and Nate Lubick, going into their senior years, have played significant minutes. Jabril Trawick and Mikhael Hopkins have played significant minutes. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has played significant minutes. Moses Ayegba has played significant minutes. We have a group that’s played. We have a group of guys that have had to win games. At the end of the day, we lost one person. We lost one guy from a group that won the Big East regular season last year. We will figure it out.”

The Hoyas have a few new additions to their roster this year with the arrival of transfer center Josh Smith from UCLA, who will become eligible after the first semester, and freshman forward Reggie Cameron. Thompson expects them to contribute to an already veteran-laden roster.

“I think those guys will be right in the mix,” said Thompson. “Josh is a low-post presence. We will make him score down there. He’s also a very good passer. Reggie probably gets a lot of attention just because of how well he can shoot the ball. He’s an elite shooter. He has a very good feel for the game. He knows how to play the game. He can make those playing with him look better because of his feel for the game. We’ll see how we come together as the year comes along.”

Finally, Vox asked Coach about his own personal commitment to Georgetown, especially after the recent departure of Head Coach Brad Stevens from Butler to the NBA’s Boston Celtics, a move that surprised many, since it appeared that Stevens would perpetually be the head coach of the Bulldogs. Without hesitation, Thompson expressed his happiness with his current situation here on the Hilltop.

“I’m doing what I want to do where I want to do it right now,” he said.

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr

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