WASHINGTON (AP) -Before a basketball was bounced, the accolades began pouring in for Georgetown and Roy Hibbert. Now it's time to start earning the praise that really counts - by living up to all of those lofty expectations.
Before a game was played, Georgetown opened at No. 5 in The Associated Press poll. Hibbert was an All-America selection and the Big East preseason player of the year.
Heady stuff, right?
``It's preseason,'' the 7-foot-2 Hibbert said with a shrug Thursday. ``The end of the season - that's what counts the most.''
Led by their center and do-everything forward Jeff Green, the Hoyas finished strong in 2006-07, winning their conference tournament before getting all the way to the Final Four for the first time since 1985.
All those years ago, of course, John Thompson was coaching and Patrick Ewing was the star. Those two were leading the cheering section last season, supporting their sons: coach John Thompson III and reserve forward Patrick Ewing Jr.
Mary, the younger Ewing will slide into the starting slot vacated by Green - now in the NBA after being drafted in the first round.
The rest of the first five will be the same, with seniors Hibbert (12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds) and Jonathan Wallace (11.4 points, 3.1 assists), sophomore DaJuan Summers (9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds) and junior Jessie Sapp (9.1 points, 3.6 assists).
The continuity is something they're excited about.
``This is a group that seems to be a tight-knit unit,'' Thompson said, standing a few feet away from a glass case holding the net his team cut down after winning the East Regional final in March. ``We have people who understand what the coach wants. There is that togetherness.''
His players concur, even if leading-scorer Green is gone.
``It's a big loss. He brought a lot to the table,'' Wallace acknowledged. ``But we have guys ready to step up - Patrick Ewing Jr., Vernon Macklin, DaJuan Summers. Those guys can jump in at any point in time and get those rebounds and those defensive stops like Jeff did last year.''
Last year figures to come up a lot this year, if only because it signaled a return to prominence for a program that went through a bit of a dry spell.
And while Thompson doesn't want anyone to forget his team's accomplishments, he does emphasize that the past success won't help win any games over the coming months.
``We are proud about what happened last year, but at the same time, our guys realize that what happened last year is irrelevant this year,'' said Thompson, who was given a six-year contract extension through 2013. ``What we went through last year ... helped to prepare this group for being in a similar position this year. That's not to say we won't have the same hiccups, the same bumps.''
Wallace was quick to mention last season's rough start.
It included three losses in Georgetown's first seven games - including a 13-point upset defeat at home against unheralded Old Dominion, a setback Wallace likened to Gardner-Webb's victory over Kentucky this week.
``We have a core of guys that have been through what we had to go through last year and know the offense and defense, the overall system,'' Wallace said. ``So at this point, we've been a little more together than we were last year.''
Much of the focus will be on Hibbert, whose statistics and athleticism have improved steadily since his freshman year.
So, Coach, can you point to a specific area or two where your star needs improvement?
``Offensively and defensively,'' Thompson said with a wink last week.
But while pointing out there is plenty of work left to be done, he also was sure to praise Hibbert for the strides he's made.
``Relative to where he's going to be, it's still an early phase,'' Thompson said. ``In years to come - not just this year, but two, three, four, five years from now - I think he will continue to get better.''

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