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In the warm-up game for last week’s Capital Classic at the packed MCI Center, Matt Causey played for the White team. Next season, in the same arena, the point guard is scheduled to play for Georgetown. That’s, well, the black team.

Causey’s stats (13 points, 8 assists) and streetball panache in the preliminary contest earned him an MVP trophy and the respect of folks who’d come only for an audience with LeBron James. At one point in the second half, Causey’s behind-the-back dribble at full speed caused a defender to sprawl face-first on the court. The delectable move was shown three times in slow motion on the house TV system, and each showing sparked a roar from the crowd at least the equal of anything James received in the nightcap.

Causey’s performance also drew quite a bit of attention to his signing with Georgetown and reignited discussions about the color makeup of the school’s basketball program. Causey is white. Over the last few decades, folks with pale skin have gotten to play ball at Georgetown about as often as women have gotten to shower at Augusta.

No white player, in fact, has started for the Hoyas since December 1996, when guard Brendan Gaughan was on the floor for the tipoff against Pacific in a Christmas-break tournament in Las Vegas. Gaughan played three minutes in that game, failing to score in what turned out to be the only start of his Georgetown career. (The Hoyas were not only upset by Pacific—they were routed.)

Gaughan is the son of Michael Gaughan and grandson of Jackie Gaughan, who own the Orleans, Barbary Coast, and Gold Coast casinos in Vegas. Former Georgetown Coach John Thompson found himself involved in something of a scandal involving the Gaughans around the time of the Pacific game. Word had gotten out earlier that year that in 1995, he had filed an application with the Nevada Gaming Control Board for a license so he could buy a portion of the Gaughans’ slot-machine business. Georgetown President the Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan failed to bless his coach’s gambling venture when news about it hit the papers, and Thompson ultimately withdrew the application.

The Gaughan situation only further annoyed those who were unhappy with the Georgetown coach’s pattern of keeping white players off his roster or nailed to the bench. (For those keeping score: Five Caucasians—Brian Kelly, Dan Kelly, Mike Sabol, Vladimir Bosanac, and Gaughan—made the cut in the ’90s.)

A coach’s job is to win, and taking into account the Hoyas’ record during his tenure (596-239, with one national championship), Thompson never needed to defend his means at the college level. Then came the 1988 Olympics, during which he served as head basketball coach of the U.S. team. Thompson selected just one white player—Dan Majerle—for the U.S. team he coached. When that squad got bounced in the semifinals by Russia, critics kept race just barely on the sidelines by saying he didn’t bring enough “outside shooters” to the Games with him. In response to the failures of Thompson’s squad, U.S. Olympic organizers sent our country’s weapons of mass destruction—the NBA’s Dream Team—to the 1992 Games in Barcelona. (For those keeping score: Four Caucasians—Larry Bird, John Stockton, Chris Mullin and, ahem, Christian Laettner—were on the Dream Team.) And Thompson wasn’t asked back; USA Basketball hired Chuck Daly of the Detroit Pistons to lead the Olympic charge.

Thompson retired from Georgetown in 1999. The roster at Georgetown has yet to lighten up under white head coach Craig Esherick, who played for Thompson from 1974 to 1978.

So the coming of Causey is making waves in Hoyaland. On the message board at Hoyasaxa.com, a Web site for serious fans, the guard is now being hailed, with some irony, as “the Great White Hope,” and even “OWH”—for “Only White Hope.”

Causey is used to getting attention, though for other reasons. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, he led the East Hall High School team to the finals of Georgia’s Class AA bracket, which is in a lower-tier athletic division in the state. But as a junior, in the middle of the 2001-2002 season, he left East Hall and transferred to Berkmar High in Lilburn, Ga., the two-time defending state champion in the higher-profile AAAAA bracket. Family members told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the transfer was made in hopes of increasing Causey’s chances for a scholarship.

The transfer paid off almost immediately. By the end of his junior year at Berkmar, Causey had been offered a free ride at Georgetown.

There was a backlash, however: The Georgia High School Association executive committee subsequently approved, by unanimous vote, what could be called the Causey Rule: Any Georgia high-school athlete who transfers now has to prove that he or she was not recruited by the new school. Those unable to provide such proof will lose a year of eligibility.

Causey, who now stands somewhere between 5-foot-11 and 6-foot-1, depending on which clipping is to be believed, averaged 20 points and 10 assists as a senior. That wasn’t good enough to get Berkmar back to the state finals, but the stats Causey’s play did land him Georgia player-of-the-year honors and the invite to serve as opening act for LeBron. In an interview on Thompson’s WTEM-AM radio show earlier in the day of the MCI Center performance, Causey said, in a deep Southern accent and amid plenty of “sir”s, that it was “an honor” to be in the presence of the architect of Georgetown’s basketball program. Thompson was equally gracious, describing his old school as lucky to land the new recruit.

“Well, you want nice young men,” Thompson said. —Dave McKenna