Hibbert is big on getting better

Posted: July 14, 2007

At the Final Four, it was a draw.

Roy Hibbert scored 19 points and pulled in six rebounds, Greg Oden had 13 and nine in a national semifinal where the whistle quickly eliminated the battle of the big men.

At the barbershop, Oden wins, hands down.

"He's got a full beard and he's, like, 19 years old," Hibbert said. "I'm trying to get the patches to fill in."

Normally, Hibbert follows the NHL approach, letting the 'fro grow wild and the beard go unshaven for luck in the postseason. This year, the 20-year-old is getting a jump on the facial hair, hoping the beard will make him look a little more imposing.

Hard to say right now whether the scruff is doing the trick. The 7-2 frame certainly isn't hurting.

Hibbert yesterday asserted himself in the paint as tryouts for the Pan American Games team continued at Haverford College. At one point, Villanova coach Jay Wright, who will lead the U.S. contingent, stopped a scrimmage to remind his players, "If he's standing here open, give him the ball."

Seems like a smart idea. Georgetown rode that idea and the talent of Jeff Green to the Final Four this past season, and if this U.S. squad is going to succeed, it will need to get the ball to the likes of Hibbert. While the United States will field a team of college underclassmen in Brazil, Wright fully expects most other countries to mix in their senior national players, putting these 19- to 21-year-olds up against grown men pushing their mid- to late 20s.

"As we're talking about finalizing this roster, we're looking at players who can play against men," Wright said. "He can, and not just because of his size. He's been around. He's experienced."

Labeled a project when he arrived at Georgetown - John Thompson Jr. once memorably labeled his son's recruit the "big stiff" - Hibbert came into his own during his junior season. A perfect center for John Thompson III's adaptation of the Princeton offense, he averaged 12.9 points and 6.9 rebounds. He was named to the All-Big East first team and the NCAA East Regional team.

Hibbert entered the NBA draft, and his size certainly would have earned him a paycheck, but, in the end, Hibbert opted to return to school. He said he hasn't looked back, even though Green, the Big East Player of the Year, stayed in.

"I'm glad I went through it," Hibbert said. "I think I learned a lot of what's expected of you, and that will help me out next year even more.

"No looking back, because I'm pretty sure I couldn't be a free agent right now if I wanted to be," Hibbert added laughing.

The fact is, that experience and this one should make Hibbert even more seasoned at draft time next year.

That is, if he makes the team.

Hibbert, who would seem a virtual lock for a final roster spot, said more than once, "if I make the team."

"I'm cautiously optimistic," he said, "but you never know."

If by some strange luck he is left out of the mix, Hibbert has something to go back to. The government major bypassed a chance at an internship with the Department of Education for a chance to represents the United States in Brazil. A political enthusiast, he's twice bought tickets to hear presidential candidate Barack Obama speak, but said he's not endorsing anyone just yet.

"I'm keeping my mouth shut for now, playing it neutral," Hibbert said.

Coaching philosophy

Midpractice yesterday, Jay Wright called the troops together to give a lesson in Jay Wright Coaching 101. The man who has been praised by his players for "letting them play" on offense offered up about as succinct a summary of his style that you're going to hear.

"I'm not interested in you showing me how good you are at running the offense," Wright said. "I want you to understand the concept, but I want you to score."

First cut is the deepest

Tomorrow morning, USA Basketball will trim its roster to 16 players, and for the 14 players cut, that will be an unfamiliar feeling.

Villanova point guard Scottie Reynolds couldn't remember the last time he was cut, but vividly remembers the days when tryouts were regular occurrences.

"We used to have a big van and I'd behind one of the chairs," Reynolds said. "One time, I remember the coach came into the van to get me. I just didn't like tryouts. It was way worse than a test."

Hibbert was equally stymied when asked when the last time he was cut from a roster.

"Man, I have no idea," said the 7-2 Hibbert, who, for obvious reasons, was seldom passed over. "I know once I didn't make seventh-grade class president, but that wasn't being cut."

Dinks and dunks

Marquette coach Tom Crean watched his players Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal from the sideline . . . Syracuse point guard Eric Devendorf spent a lot of time at off guard as Wright tinkered with his backcourt strategies . . . Washington State guard Derrick Low impressed, as did Indiana forward D.J. White. *

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