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Blast from the past

NEW YORK – Roy Hibbert was on his way to the locker room, wearing his Big East tournament championship T-Shirt and the big, goofy grin of a dizzy kid trying to understand how it all happened. Three years ago, he was a lost soul on the floor, free of coordination and stamina, a pinball on the court bouncing between bodies. He wanted to make himself a part of the program’s history, a 7-footer honoring his end of the Hoyas legacy.

“I never thought I’d be where I am now,” Hibbert said. He wanted a chance to make himself a part of Georgetown history, and in these three seasons, Hibbert has come so much further as a basketball player than Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. “He’s improved as much as any player I’ve ever been around in college basketball,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.

He will be a lottery pick millionaire in the NBA, and that could happen as early as this spring, if the spirit so moved him. But he shook his head, and said, “No … No,” on Saturday night. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant can come and go in college basketball, but Hibbert didn’t need those Georgetown students at Madison Square Garden to serenade him with, “One more year, one more year.”

“I’m a four-year player,” Hibbert said Saturday night, and it was easy to forget that someone legitimately asking him about his NBA Draft intentions would’ve once sounded like pure foolery three years ago. But Hibbert has a vision, a vision laid out by Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo, and if Georgetown was good enough for them, it’s good enough for him.

“The Georgetown big man history is so rich, I thought I could pick up some stuff,” he said.

The natural order of Big East basketball returned on Saturday night with the Hoyas destroying Pittsburgh 65-42 and hanging a conference tournament (and regular season) banner back on campus. It had been a long time since they clipped the nets at the Garden – back in 1989, when it was John Thompson Jr. presiding over Hoya Paranoia – and now the Big East belonged to its original dynasty again. In three years, John Thompson III has delivered the Hoyas all the way back to national prominence, restoring this family heirloom to grandeur.

As he clipped the nets at the Garden, he leaned forward on the ladder and yelled to the Hoyas students, “We are …” and they screamed back, “Georgetown!” And he yelled it again, and again, and with that 7-foot-2 center, Hibbert, standing near him, yes, they sure looked like Georgetown again. They’ve won 15 of 16 games, and bring everything a Final Four contender needs to the NCAA tournament.

They have Jeff Green, the conference player of the year, and John Thompson III, one of college basketball’s best coaches. Most of all, they have this intriguing development in the middle, Hibbert, who punctuated a marvelous tournament run with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Across the way, Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray missed 12 of 13 shots and was never part of the conference championship game.

Hibbert is one of a dying breed, a back-to-the-basket, 7-foot-2 kid who doesn’t want to be Kevin Garnett on the perimeter, who doesn’t want to dribble the ball and shoot jump shots. No, Hibbert is the old-school center at the old-school center school. After Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, you’d have to look at this kid long and hard in the draft lottery. He’s bright and diligent and responding at a rapid rate to college coaching.

More and more, Hibbert is dominating college basketball games, and still, no one thinks he’s close to a finished product. That’s because he’s a worker, a relentless, religious worker – an anomaly in kids north of 7-foot tall these days. Most of them are so spoiled, so corrupted by the amateur system, that they never maximize themselves. The great part about Hibbert is that everyone will eventually see the best of his talent, the best he can be, and that's a rare treat.

“He is willing,” Thompson said. “You show him something, you try to teach him something and he embraces it.”

He is the son of dedicated parents who never accepted that fact that because he was 7-foot tall he should automatically become a basketball player. They had him try the piano and tennis and golf. Hibbert laughed and confessed, “I wasn’t too good at the other stuff, so I tried to be good at what I was: being tall.”

And three years ago, that's all Hibbert was good at. He couldn’t do a push-up. He couldn’t run, couldn’t shoot, couldn't do anything but promise his coach he was going to work, and work, and work, until that changed. Now, here he was Saturday night at the Garden, and everything had changed.

He signed up at Georgetown to be a four-year student, a four-year basketball player, because that’s the program that Ewing and Mourning and Mutombo started. And that’s the program that Roy Hibbert plans to finish.