IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hibbert returns for higher basketball degree

WashPost: Georgetown center Roy Hibbert has decided to return to college instead of entering the NBA draft in hopes of being the No. 1 pick next year. On the other hand, Hoyas teammate Jeff  Green, who is more mature, decided not to return to Georgetown for the opposite reasons.
Greg Oden, Roy Hibbert
Georgetown's Roy Hibbert (55) played well against Ohio State's  Greg Oden in the NCAA semifinals two months ago. The lesson he learned against Oden, who probably will be in the top pick in the NBA draft next month, is that by returning to Georgetown, he could mature into the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, writes Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post.Gerry Broome / AP

In the Final Four, Roy Hibbert faced the player that would help him imagine his own future. There, he confronted Ohio State's 7-foot freshman Greg Oden, a basketball prodigy so gifted he likely will be the first player picked in next month's NBA draft. For the 7-2 Hibbert, once a gangly freshman nicknamed "Big Stiff," this was a final exam after three years of hard work and spectacular improvement. Where did he stand? And if he withstood Oden, was he ready for the NBA draft himself with its guaranteed millions of dollars?

"That game showed me I'm a pretty decent center. I didn't have to change my game at all to play against him," said Hibbert, who had 19 points, six rebounds and a block in 24 minutes, slightly outshining Oden's 13 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes, though both had severe foul trouble.

A bit to his own surprise, Hibbert discovered he could get high-percentage shots almost at will against Oden, whether hooking with either hand or spinning to the basket. On defense, Hibbert's long wingspan bothered Oden. In short, Hibbert came closer to dictating to Oden than the reverse.

After that, the NBA-star siren song would have won the heart of many a young man — perhaps to their long-term detriment. But the 278-pound Hibbert took exactly the opposite lesson.

"It tempted me," Hibbert said of the draft, where he probably would have been taken between the eighth and 14th overall pick. "But it also made me realize that maybe I can be the best big guy in the country next year.

"It made me think how good I could be. If I keep working and improving, why can't I be a top pick next year? Things may not work out that way. I could go number eight, 14. Or 20 [next year]. But I think I can be a great center. And we can get even further than we did last season."

Hibbert, whose play steadily improved all season until he averaged 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the NCAA tournament, made the right decision yesterday and because of it, will have the greatest possible chance to become an NBA star someday while giving the Hoyas a realistic chance to win the NCAA championship next season.

"I want to finish business here: work, get better, graduate," he said.

Hibbert's physique and talents still aren't fully formed. When he arrived from Georgetown Prep, he was little more than a towering project rather than a real player. Despite all his accomplishments, he still had far too many "single-single" games last season when was barely a factor on offense or the boards.

"I need to be better all around: get stronger, finish [better] around the basket and rebound better," he said.

What would help most?

"Maybe staying out of foul trouble," he replied.

Spending a year or more on an NBA bench might stunt his development. Besides, the bubbly Hibbert is clearly having a ball in college and doesn't want to stop acting his age. Why should he? Asked if he "kind of liked" college, including the classes, Hibbert answered, "I kind of love it."

On the other hand, his teammate Jeff Green, the Big East player of the year, made the opposite decision, but the correct one for him, by declaring for the draft. Green is as sober and mature in public as Hibbert seems youthful and buoyant. Also, the forward's game is polished and NBA-ready.

"It's my time to move on," Green said. "The decision was very tough. . . . Just walking down the street people would say, 'Go get the money,' or, 'Come back and get your degree.' I'd just keep on walking, either way."

"We're in different situation," Hibbert emphasized, naming a list of Green's accolades that currently maximize his draft value. "He'll always be a Hoya, and I wish him the best."

Once in a while, we get a feel-good story. But this one's a twofer. Both Hoyas are local products, while Green is one of the most unselfish star players that local college basketball has ever produced. Except for the final game of his career, when he seldom asserted himself offensively and took only five shots against Ohio State, that character trait never let him down.

However, Hibbert is probably the player whose career will have a special place in our memories, like Juan Dixon's at Maryland, because he arrived with so few expectations, stayed all four years and made such an impact. At the moment, he has an insurance policy -- just in case he gets injured next season and never has an NBA career. But the Georgetown basketball program really gets "insurance" because of his return. If he and Green had both left, the Hilltop rebuilding project of Coach John Thompson III might have, with bad luck, taken a step backward. Now, that's unlikely.

"I was comfortable with whatever they decided," Thompson said. "Either way, we try to figure out how next year's team is going to skin the cat."

Perhaps, in this case, fathers really do know best.

"Having Roy come back is significant for the program, because you can't grow seven feet," former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. quipped. "Next year, you may not have somebody who can play forward quite as well as Jeff. But you damn sure won't have anybody nearly as big as Roy at center."

The elder Thompson seemed almost equally happy for both players, perhaps because he has such an unashamed appreciation for two of life's great joys: a large pile of money and a good education.

"Next year at this time, Roy will be smiling, I promise you," the elder Thompson said. "They both realize what the NBA entails. It entails getting rich. But you better have other tools for life. And education is the biggest one. Your physical talent determines where you are when you enter the NBA. But your intelligence determines where you stand when you come out. And a lot of players come out looking for jobs and broke."

How much education is enough?

"Enough to read an audit sheet," the elder Thompson said.