WASHINGTON (AP) — At 2:29 p.m. on a recent weekday afternoon, Ed Cooley blew his whistle to start a Georgetown men’s basketball practice at the John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center, then yelled, “Let’s go!” at players wearing navy T-shirts with “Hoya Family” written on the back.
Soon, with everyone gathered around him, Cooley — the new coach, hired away from Big East rival Providence — was talking to his team — a mostly new group filled with transfers — about “emotional physicality and physical physicality,” about how they were going to work on their first drill “until we get it right.”
For nearly 2 1/2 hours, Cooley alternately observed — arms crossed, rumpled piece of white paper in one hand — and offered stern guidance sprinkled with colorful language and wit (“We’re not trying to run a play; we’re trying to score!”). He criticized (“If he ever scored on me, I’d punch myself! Sometimes it’s not about your defense; it’s about your pride!”). He taught (“The best leaders overcommunicate” and “Always keep score; there’s always a winner and loser in life”). It’s a style Georgetown associate head coach Ivan Thomas, who was on Cooley’s Providence staff for eight years, describes as a mix of “a tsunami … a galvanizer of people” and “Uncle Ed at the cookout.”
What was remarkable wasn’t so much how Cooley went about the business of turning around a once-proud program that became an afterthought while going 13-50 overall and 2-37 in the Big East the past two seasons under Patrick Ewing. What was most noteworthy: Cooley’s willingness to allow a reporter to observe the full session at the home of “Hoya Paranoia” in bygone days, when Thompson was the coach and Ewing was the star center for the 1984 NCAA champions.
It’s just one of the ways in which Cooley is planning to balance embracing the legacy of Thompson, whom he calls an inspiration and a mentor, while instituting change, a word he used repeatedly during an interview with The Associated Press in a conference room filled with trophies and cut-down nets from the Hoyas’ heyday.
“Georgetown — the board — they have put all their chips in the middle of the table. And I don’t want to let them down. They made a substantial, substantial investment in me and my family, to combine with them and try to resurrect Georgetown basketball,” said Cooley, whose first regular-season game is Nov. 7 against visiting Le Moyne.
“I’ve seen the highs. I’ve seen the lows,” said Cooley, who went to seven NCAA Tournaments in 12 seasons at Providence. “There’s not an organization — maybe outside of Kansas — that didn’t go through a change, a downfall, a dip. But the cream will rise to the top. To me, it’s not a matter of ‘if.’ It’s not. Failure is not an option, right?”
He says there will be more chances for reporters and others to watch practice. He vows increased media access to first-semester freshmen. He promises better recruiting of players from Washington, Maryland and Virginia.
“I’m going to live up to MY standard. I’m going to respect OUR tradition at Georgetown. I’m going to respect our legacy,” Cooley said. “I will create a different culture.”
Georgetown was picked to finish eighth out of 11 teams in the Big East coaches’ preseason poll, and Cooley knows there’s some heavy lifting ahead.
It won’t help that forward Ismael Massoud, a graduate transfer from Kansas State, will miss the start of the season after surgery on his right hand on Oct. 24. He is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks.
“I tell him all the time: I believe in you, because I’ve seen you do more with less,” said Georgetown assistant LaDontae Henton, who played for Cooley at Providence, then worked for him for two years. “I call it ‘wringing out the towel.’ Like if there’s something good in a player, he’s going to bring it out.”
Looking ahead, the 2024 recruiting class is considered by scouting services to be among the 10 best in the country.
And in the meantime?
“Our wins won’t come on the scoreboard” in Year 1, Cooley said. “Our wins are going to come in transformational change of students, alumni, faculty, staff, advertising, ticket sales, promotions.”
There’s already some progress: Georgetown says single-game ticket sales volume is up 80% year-over-year and overall ticket revenue is projected to grow 67%.
Thomas has no doubt everything will pan out.
Like his boss, Thomas talks about eventually earning a national championship banner to hang alongside the 1984 one on a wall behind a basket in the practice gym.
“The same tough, grimy culture that persisted with Georgetown in the past, you’ll get that (now),” Thomas said, “but it’s going to be with loving arms. Coach Cooley, he’s going to coach you tough, but he’s going to love you tough, too.”
Massoud said Cooley occasionally quotes Thompson — whose son, John III, coached Georgetown to the Final Four in 2007 — and “talks about how we’re going to get it back to where people are rooting for us.”
“We’re just trying to bring it back to how it was back then,” said Jay Heath, a senior guard who grew up in Washington and transferred from Arizona State to play under Ewing last year. “We’ve got to win. Just — point-blank, period — we’ve got to win. I feel like once we start winning, the city and the fans will get behind us.”
Cooley looks forward to all of that.
He’d appreciate a little patience until it does.
“We’ve got our work cut out this year, brother. We do,” Cooley said. “It’s going to be tough. But I think we will improve.”
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