Not-So-Little Hoyas

<b>Georgetown Prep (Md.)</b> 7-foot-2 center <b>Roy Hibbert</b> and 6-foot-10 forward <b>Davis Nwankwo</b> gave the Little Hoyas the nation's biggest and best frontcourt duo this season.

When Georgetown Prep seniors Roy Hibbert and Davis Nwankwo walk down the street together, incognito is not an option.

They don't see anything strange about it. To them, they're just a pair of teammates hanging out after basketball practice, which, the last time they checked, was normal human behavior.

Most people, however, see something else: The two biggest kids they've ever witnessed, walking side-by-side. Needless to say, it's a little shocking to roll out of the Gap at the Montgomery Mall and see Hibbert, a 7-foot-2, 270-pound center, and Nwankwo, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward, walking toward you. And it often prompts even the most rational of people to ask the same question.

Do you guys play basketball?

"It probably happens at least three or four times (a day). I tell people I'm a golfer or a swimmer. If they ask me how tall I am, I tell them 6-foot-14," says Hibbert with a laugh. "It's always funny to watch them stare."

Bystanders haven't been the only ones staring up at Nwankwo and Hibbert the past few years. Most of the top teams in college — and some in the NBA — would give anything to have a frontcourt featuring players as big and talented as Prep's towering tandem.

And they aren't just a novelty act, either — Nwankwo and Hibbert can play. Both are Top 100 recruits, with Nwankwo rated No. 75 and Hibbert No. 79 in the Class of 2004.

Led by these two, the Little Hoyas (a rather ironic nickname for this team) rolled to a 20-6 record and the Interstate Athletic Conference regular season title this year. And over the past four seasons, Hibbert and Nwankwo helped lead Prep to a 78-25 overall record and plenty of attention from fans, media and opponents alike.

"It's a blessing and a curse to have two big guys like that because the expectations are humongous," says Georgetown Prep fifth-year head coach Dwayne Bryant, who played his college ball at Georgetown University under legendary coach John Thompson. "They fulfilled all my expectations. It's been more of a blessing than a curse."

Hibbert, who was 6-foot-11 as a freshman and has been in the national spotlight since he was a sophomore, has literally been the centerpiece for the Hoyas. He's a bit of a throwback in that he is what he is — a center — nothing more, nothing less. He's content to hang in the paint and control the game from down low rather than step out and bury a 20-foot jumper (he's got nice touch from eight feet and in) or take a smaller man off the dribble to show his versatility.

Hibbert has also overcome his share of physical adversity after breaking his foot twice as a sophomore. The first break came on the opening day of practice, and after coming back later in the season, Hibbert broke it again during summer league play. He spent three months in a cast, one more month in a removable cast and followed that up with two months of rehab.

Eventually, the foot healed completely, thanks in large part to Hibbert's attitude toward rehab.

"That was really hard," says Hibbert, who rebounded from the injury to average 17 points and 14 rebounds per game as a junior. "I wanted to play a lot. But I pushed through it. It would have been easy to slack off, but I had to be determined to keep on going."

This season, "Sha-Dirk" (so nicknamed by his teammates because they say Hibbert is a little Shaquille O'Neal and a little Dirk Nowitzki) really came into his own, averaging 19 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks per game for the Little Hoyas. And next year he'll attempt to do the same for the "Big" Hoyas. Hibbert has signed to play his college ball at Georgetown — a big man factory with a lineage of centers that includes Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington and, most recently, Michael Sweetney.

Nwankwo, on the other hand, was 6-foot-4 when he enrolled at Prep, then sprouted six inches. He's a graceful, poised forward with guard skills and tremendous athleticism, which is why some people believe his upside might be even higher than Hibbert's.

His numbers didn't match Hibbert's — Nwankwo averaged 11 points, 10 boards and four assists per game this season — but college coaches have seen past the stats and think Nwankwo has a chance to blossom at the next level, wherever that might be. As of the middle of March, Nwankwo had yet to decide on a college, with Arizona, Gonzaga, UCLA, Princeton and Northwestern all in the mix.

"I want to be comfortable with the players and the coaches and be able to do other stuff besides basketball," says Nwankwo of his college decision. "And the academics have to be good."

Nwankwo is known as "Big Smooth," a tribute to the almost effortless manner with which he carries himself both on and off the court. But coach Bryant says the nickname fits almost too well, especially if Nwankwo hopes to reach his potential.

"From a physical standpoint, he's got no weaknesses. He can shoot the ball, he can handle the ball," says Bryant, whose towering frontcourt was rounded out this season by 6-foot-9 senior forward Aris Williams, who will play at Valparaiso next season. "He has to work on his mental approach, his aggressiveness."

Hibbert and Nwankwo first met on the basketball court in eighth grade, when Hibbert was manning the post for St. Michaels and Nwankwo was playing guard for St. Mark's. Hibbert led his team in scoring with 24 points, but Nwankwo's squad walked away with a blowout win.

They joined forces the following season at Georgetown Prep, forming both a friendship and a healthy rivalry that would one day provide the basis for one of the best scholastic teams in Maryland.

But Hibbert and Nwankwo have more than just height in common. Both are exceptional students — Nwankwo has a 3.8 GPA, Hibbert has a 3.3 GPA — who share a love for the game and a desire to dominate it.

What else would you expect from the two big men on campus?

"I'll say, ‘This is my court,' and he'll say, ‘No, this is my court.' We want to prove each other wrong, and I think that pushed our teammates, too," says Hibbert. "We've had our ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we're great friends."

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