Unselfish Monroe anchors Hoyas

Dan Wetzel

NEW YORK – It took awhile for Madison Square Garden to begin filling up Tuesday night, a sparse crowd for the 7 p.m. tip between Georgetown and Butler in the opening game of the Jimmy V Classic.

There was an exception though. Section 87 was near full capacity early. NBA scouts had packed themselves into their designated area to catch every glimpse they could of the night's potential big prize, Georgetown center Greg Monroe.

He's listed at 6-foot-11, 247 pounds and has been hailed as the next great Hoya big man since he committed to the program two years ago out of Louisiana. Yet for his clear NBA potential – there is no question he can be a lottery pick after the season – his actual impact on the court remains to be seen. It's why the scouts wanted to see how focused he was, even in the layup lines.

He dominated the stat sheet, delivering 23 points and 15 rebounds in a satisfying 72-65 victory over No. 22 Butler. Yet despite the gaudy numbers, it wasn't like he dominated the game. Against a team lacking a player with the physical skills to stop him, he certainly could've done more.

"I'd like to see him more aggressive," said one Eastern Conference player personnel director in Section 87.

To Monroe, that is the kind of comment he wants to ignore. He had no regrets about his performance, forget the stat sheet, this was about the scoreboard. The Hoyas are now 7-0 and ranked 15th in America.

"I'm just focused on doing what it takes for my team to win," he said. "I'm just focused on what my team and my coach needs me to do. Everything I do is for the betterment of my team."

And there is the conundrum of Greg Monroe – millionaire in a matter of months, yet dedicated team player in this very moment. He could move up in the draft by being more selfish.

However, he can avoid the kind of late-season slide that cost the Hoyas an NCAA berth if he does what it takes to win.

Then again, if he was all about his numbers and turning the heads of general managers in the stands, then questions would emerge about his commitment to winning.

Of course, being aggressive around the rim isn't exactly going to hurt the Hoyas, is it?

In the peculiar way that players try out for the NBA, sometimes you just can't win. So Monroe is going for just winning. The draft can wait. The NBA talk will come later.

"He's a college sophomore," his coach, John Thompson III reminds.

If this was all about getting paid, he could've gone pro a year ago. Instead he returned for a number of reasons, not the least of which is he actually likes attending Georgetown.

It's what makes him the kind of player Thompson covets. As one scout noted, "the system hides talent," which means Monroe may be capable of bigger numbers but if he is truly committed to the Princeton-style offense, he'll make a lot of passes out of the post.

"Since I've been the coach, the [system] is to throw it inside and that person is unselfish and makes good decisions," Thompson said. "He's unselfish."

In the long run, learning Thompson's system that calls for sound decision making and interior passing is a major plus for Monroe. In the short term, the scouts want to know if his energy level can be consistent or if he has the will to dominate. That was the concern about him after his freshman season.

"I think a lot of it was the makeup of our team," Thompson said. "He was a freshman and we had some established players."

Neither side of the basketball equation is wrong. Not the NBA execs, not the college coach. Everyone is looking for different things out of the guy. It's what makes college coaches grow old early – they may want the best for player, they also want the best for the team.

It's a strange spot.

Monroe kept reminding everyone Tuesday that his goal is not to be considered a great college player or NBA prospect as much as to be part of a great college team.

Yes he is the latest in a long line of big-time big men (Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Roy Hibbert and so on) at the school, but the program built by Thompson's father has always valued Final Four banners more than All-American plaques.

If he wanted to shoot at will, he could've gone somewhere else.

"I have no specific goal [this season]," Monroe said. "It's just to win the next game."

Thompson cracked a smile upon hearing that. It was the perfect answer.

"He listens to his coach," Thompson said. "He's heard that for two years now."

The opinions of Section 87 will have to wait a little longer.