NEW YORK -- John Thompson III played his college basketball for a man who thought there was nothing a big man couldn’t do.
In Pete Carril’s offense at Princeton, centers were expected to score down low, bounce a perfect backdoor pass and step out and sink a three. He called them point-centers, treating them as equal parts point guard and post player, and with such reverence his entire Princeton offense was predicated around their abilities.
Carril groomed some good ones in his day, but the hoops yoda never saw anything quite like Greg Monroe.
The Georgetown sophomore unleashed his stat-stuffing repertoire on a Marquette team that was helpless to contain him. Monroe racked up 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks to take the Hoyas to an 80-57 win over the Golden Eagles, and into the Big East tournament championship for the third time in four years. With seven titles, Georgetown has won more Big East crowns than any other league member.
“We see it everyday,’’ Thompson said. “But what’s commonplace to us, the rest of the world gets to see every now and again.’’
Good big men are hard enough to find at this level. Exceptional ones are rarer than yellow diamonds.
A guy like Monroe might as well be preserved next to Walt Disney and Ted Williams.
He has the sound fundamentals of an Ivy Leaguer and the skill set of a McDonald’s All-American, a deadly combination of smarts, savvy and strength that is unlike anyone currently in the college game.
Monroe’s dad, Gregory Sr., insisted his son learn to pass the ball as a kid, reminding him that passing big men are harder to guard. The dribbling followed the passing and the rest just came thanks to the good graces of good genes.
In one two-minute span against Marquette, the nature/nurture benefits were on full display. Monroe drained a 3-pointer (taking a moment to strike a hand-flick pose like a guard), blocked a shot, took an outlet and dribbled the length of the floor like a gazelle, bouncing a perfect pass to Austin Freeman for an and-one play.
“It is unique because he can dominate in his own way, but like a point guard, he an also make everyone else better,’’ Thompson said. “That’s what he’s learned, when to turn it on and when to take a step back.’’
Which is exactly what he did against the Golden Eagles. Monroe was everywhere in the first half, taking 14 points, five boards and three assists into the locker room.
He stepped off the gas to start the second half, but instead of growing frustrated as Marquette packed in to contain him, he simply bided his time and fed picture-perfect passes to Chris Wright, Freeman or Jason Clark.
And then when the Golden Eagles threatened to make it interesting, there was Monroe again, scoring eight in the final 10 minutes when the game went from 56-51 to over.
“Sometimes in the huddle, the guys will tell me, ‘It’s time for you to take over,’’’ Monroe said. “If it’s there, it’s there. That’s how I play. My nature is to win. That’s all I care about.’’
Monroe is at a school, of course, that has produced its fair share of talented – and successful – centers.
He refuses to put himself anywhere near the pantheon of the best ones and isn’t terribly interested in comparing his successes, either.
“The history here with big men is very rich,’’ Monroe said. “I’m just trying to do what I can in my time here and make my mark.’’
Certainly a good first step would be a Big East tournament championship.