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Georgetown Basketball and D.C.'s African-American Community, A Rich Tradition

10/20/2011, 10:05 a.m.

With the 2011-2012 college basketball season rapidly approaching, once again a buzz is being created in the black community regarding Georgetown basketball. Over the past 30 years, there has been a strong connection between D.C.'s black community and the Georgetown University men's basketball team. Spend a few hours at your local barber shop, Langston Golf Course, or the bar at B. Smith's Restaurant, and it will become apparent that our community is full of anticipation regarding the upcoming season.

The relationship started in the early 1980s when the Georgetown Hoyas came close to winning the national championship. In 1982, the Hoyas took on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the national championship game. The Hoyas were trailing by 1 point when Georgetown guard Fred Brown's pass was intercepted by James Worthy of North Carolina. When the buzzer sounded, the Hoyas found themselves the national runner-up. Two years later, the Hoyas played for the national title again. This time, they were facing the University of Houston Cougars. Led by All-American Hakeem Olajuwon, the Houston team was known as "Phi Slamma Jamma" because of their high flying players often ended offensive possessions with monster slam dunks. Regardless, the Hoyas prevailed and won their first national championship.

The championship team was led by head coach John "Big John" Thompson II. A native Washingtonian, he attended John Carroll High School and later won three championship rings with the Boston Celtics in the 1960s. He took over the Georgetown Basketball program in 1972 and led the Hoyas to three national championship games between 1982 and 1985. Many members of the black community saw "Big John" as a father figure, a leader, a man who demanded respect.

One of the primary elements which have strengthened the relationship between the Hoyas and the black community is Georgetown's ability to attract local black high school players to their program.

In 1976, Dunbar High School had the top basketball team in the country. They were led by two All-Americans, John Duren and Craig "Big Sky" Shelton, who both chose to spend their college years at Georgetown. Since that time, there have been a tremendous number of D.C. area high school players who have played at Georgetown. Players like Michael Graham, Eric Smith, Gene Smith, Roy Hibbert, and Austin Freeman are just a few.

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Historically, African-American undergraduate students make up 5 - 7 percent of all undergraduate students at Georgetown. The admissions standards are very high, and the academic culture is extremely competitive. Each year the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) compiles data regarding graduation rates for student athletes. This year's data shows that the graduation rate for the Georgetown Men's Basketball team is 60 percent, which is 12 percentage points higher than the Division I national average of 48 percent. Over the years, nearly all black basketball team sends a strong message to the black community--we can compete and succeed in largely white, competitive environments. It also is a clear indication that when it comes to men's basketball, Georgetown University does not get caught up in the political correctness of feeling obliged to have a least a few white players on the team. They are simply interested in having the best players available represent the school.