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Dave Pickett doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t a Georgetown men’s basketball fan. Growing up in the 1980s in Columbia, Maryland, Pickett’s father immersed him in the ways of head coach John Thompson, Georgetown’s success, and the program’s intimidating “Hoya Paranoia” reputation. Pickett was too young to fully appreciate Georgetown’s 1984 NCAA championship, but his early memories of the team are of a perennial contender for the NCAA title.
Now 39, Pickett is passing his fandom on to the next generation. On this cold Sunday afternoon in early February, Pickett has made the trek from his home in Howard County to Capital One Arena to watch the Hoyas take on Providence College, the No. 15 ranked team in the country.
Beside him is his 9-year-old son, David Pickett II; both are sitting just a few feet behind the baseline, close enough to hear Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing shout to his players from the bench. The younger Pickett occasionally leans over to his father to predict plays and provide analysis.
“It’s all he knows,” Pickett says of his son.
But the iteration of the Hoyas his son is growing up watching hardly resembles the athletically and culturally dominant team that reached three NCAA Final Fours in 1982, 1984, and 1985 under Thompson. Georgetown has not been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll since the 2014-15 season, and is currently on a historic 14-game losing streak—the longest single-season losing streak in program history. Fans have begun to tune out, judging by relatively low attendance at home games now that spectators are once again allowed in Capital One Arena.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Ewing, a Basketball Hall of Famer who led the Hoyas to the 1984 NCAA title, was hired to replace Thompson’s son, John Thompson III, in 2017. Ewing was expected to revitalize the Hoyas and recreate the national success he had as a player. The buzz Ewing brought with him was palpable, even as the first-time head coach preached patience shortly after accepting the job. The school and fans alike saw Ewing’s presence as a morale boost.
But the program has plummeted to a new low in Ewing’s fifth year. Now, local and national media, and even some fans, are suggesting it’s time for Ewing to pack his bags. On Feb. 6, the seats next to Pickett are mostly empty. The announced attendance is a pitiful crowd of 5,575 inside the 20,000-capacity arena.
“It does make it tough to go to the games right now,” Pickett says of the losing streak. “We still go, [but] I’ll say that my son’s expectations are more tempered than mine.”
Jacob VanderZwaag’s first time rooting for Georgetown ended in disappointment. When filling out his 2013 NCAA tournament bracket, VanderZwaag didn’t want to be like the college basketball fans who pick the outright favorite to win. That year, the Hoyas finished as the top team in the Big East and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and VanderZwaag, then in middle school, picked them to go all the way.
Georgetown lost in the first round to No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast.
“I guess that’s been a little bit of a trend,” VanderZwaag says of the disappointment.
Still, the 22-year-old senior global business major at Georgetown bought into the history and tradition of the program when he arrived on campus. On the first day of his freshman writing seminar, VanderZwaag noticed Mac McClung and James Akinjo, young stars on the basketball team, were also in the class. It didn’t matter to him that Georgetown wasn’t nationally ranked at the time; VanderZwaag could feel the energy of being at a school where basketball mattered. He soon started working for the student-run Georgetown basketball website Thompson’s Towel, and now serves as its executive editor.
“I’m a bigger basketball fan than I am a football fan, so to see a place where they put basketball first was really cool,” VanderZwaag says.
It’s also what makes the lack of success so frustrating. That season, Ewing, in his second year as head coach, brought in a heralded freshman class of McClung—who broke Georgetown legend Allen Iverson’s single-season high school scoring record—Akinjo, and Josh LeBlanc.
Things appeared to be trending upward. Throughout his tenure, Ewing has been praised for his recruiting classes, including this year’s freshman class that includes Aminu Mohammed and Ryan Mutombo, but his inability to retain players—both key starters and role players—for a variety of reasons has halted positive momentum.
According to ESPN, through June 2021, 11 players have transferred during Ewing’s tenure. McClung declared for the 2020 NBA Draft after his sophomore season, but withdrew from the draft and transferred to Texas Tech University. He’s now playing in the NBA G League. In December 2019, the school announced that Akinjo and LeBlanc were transferring. Akinjo currently plays for Baylor University, and LeBlanc competes for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Public records uncovered in 2019 revealed an individual had been granted a temporary restraining order against LeBlanc and teammate Galen Alexander, following a complaint alleging burglary and threats of bodily harm. A separate complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court against LeBlanc, Alexander, and a third Georgetown player, Myron Gardner, included allegations of sexual harassment and assault. The three players agreed to stay 50 feet away from the complainant, and the case was resolved without an admission of fault or a guilty verdict. Both Alexander and Gardner eventually transferred. Georgetown Athletic Director Lee Reed said in a press release that none of the allegations involved Akinjo.
More recently, in a surprise move, Georgetown big man Qudus Wahab decided to enter the transfer portal after the 2020-21 season, when the Hoyas won the Big East tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Wahab averaged 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game for the Hoyas last season. He now plays for the University of Maryland.
“You just can’t keep losing your best players,” says Bobby Bancroft, who covers Georgetown for the website Casual Hoya. “That senior class of Josh LeBlanc, James Akinjo, Mac McClung—they all left and they’ve been trying to fill in the gaps with grad transfers and just haven’t really hit home runs.”
Entering this season, VanderZwaag felt a level of excitement surrounding the program that he hadn’t experienced in some time. The memory of improbably winning the Big East tournament was still fresh in his mind, and Mohammed headlined a promising freshman class.
VanderZwaag’s friends started talking about Georgetown basketball again. And at the season opener on Nov. 13 against Dartmouth, an announced crowd of 8,641 showed up to watch the Hoyas at Capital One Arena for the first time since March 2020, when the pandemic forced the school to ban spectators.
“It just seemed like people were kind of buying into it once again,” VanderZwaag says.
But then the Hoyas lost, 69-60, to Dartmouth, hardly a powerhouse in men’s basketball or even in its Ivy League conference. Losses to San Diego State University and Saint Joseph’s University soon followed. Georgetown also had several games postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, and the team has struggled with second-half collapses and poor defense. The Hoyas are ranked No. 325 in the NCAA in scoring defense.
“I think in some senses the disappointment of the on-floor product this year has kind of been a missed opportunity to capitalize on that student excitement of being back on campus and being able to attend games once again,” VanderZwaag says.
Back inside the arena on Feb. 6, Pickett points out the mental mistakes that the team is making. The Hoyas took a 30-27 lead into halftime, but it doesn’t take long before Georgetown’s defense breaks down. Providence guard Jared Bynum will end up scoring a career-high 31 points in the Friars’ dominating 71-52 win.
“Right now we’re going through a tough time,” Ewing tells reporters after the game. “They have to stay focused. They have to continue to work. At some point we got to get a win.”
Pickett appears more optimistic than the coach—something he admits does not align with many Georgetown fans. He will continue attending games with David, and when his youngest son, 2-year-old Donovan, is older, he plans to bring him as well. But today, the Picketts will head back to Columbia with another Georgetown loss behind them.
At home, they’ll pass a banner celebrating the 1984 NCAA championship that hangs in the basement. It serves as a reminder of what the program once was.
“Yes, we’ve seen better days,” Pickett says. “But I have faith that these dark times won’t last.”