A dominating power forward over his three years at the Hilltop, Mike Sweetney carried the Georgetown Hoyas on his shoulders during his final two seasons, establishing his legacy amidst some difficult years for the Blue and Gray.
Sweetney came to Georgetown as a Top 50 selection from nearby Oxon Hill, MD, averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds, but there were recruiting experts who sold him short, considering him a step slow to consistently compete in the Big East. Sweetney got into shape by his freshman season and was an immediate impact on a team which began the season 16-0. He scored 19 points in each of his first three games, and by season's end had led the team in scoring 11 times and rebounds in 13. Sweetney quickly became the Hoyas' best power forward since Jerome Williams (1994-96), but while Williams was primarily a rebounder, Sweetney could also score down low and muscle his way for a number of offensive rebounds and putbacks.
It was during the 2001 Big East season that Sweetney began to ring up some big numbers in points and rebounds. A 14 point, 14 rebound effort paced the Hoyas past #18 Seton Hall, a double a week later versus UNLV, and a 14 and 13 effort against Syracuse. Posting a season high 24 points against Pitt and a 10.0 rebound average in the NCAA tournament, Sweetney was named to the Big East All-Rookie team averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. The rookie of the year? Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin, who Sweetney had in check for two meetings with the Pirates that season.
Expectations were strong entering 2001-02 that the Hoyas would develop an imposing front line with Sweetney, 6-9 Harvey Thomas, and 6-11 center Wesley Wilson. If fans recall little from Thomas' inconsistent play (5.2 points, 2.5 rebounds) or Wilson's (12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds), Sweetney was altogether memorable. In a season where it seemed that Sweetney or Kevin Braswell would take every other shot, the sophomore stepped up every time.
The key to Sweetney's development in 2002 was free throw shooting. A frequent foul target down low, he improved his foul shooting from 61% in 2001 to 79% in 2002, adding 2.7 points per game just at the line. His defensive rebounds also took a step up, making him the first Hoya player to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds in a season since Alonzo Mourning, thanks to 14 double-double games that season.
Sweetney proved dominant in Big East play but he could not do it alone. If the outside shooting failed (which it did) or the defense was lacking (which it could), even a mighty effort by "Big Mike" might not be enough. In January, 2002, Sweetney manhandled Rutgers for 26 points and 13 rebounds, but the Hoyas lost composure in overtime and lost by two, 89-87. His 35 points and 20 rebounds were the story of an amazing four overtime game with Notre Dame, but when Sweetney fouled out late in the 4th overtime, the Hoyas imploded, 115-111. He posted a 31 point effort at Villanova, but while Sweetney was 11 for 15 (.734), the rest of the team shot 11 for 57 (.192), 2 of 16 in overtime, and the Hoyas lost by eleven, 83-72.
In five Big East games that season, Georgetown had a lead heading into the final play, and finished 0-5, but Sweetney didn't give up. He averaged 16 points and 11.5 rebounds a game in a four game win streak that appeared to set the Hoyas up for a long shot NCAA berth, but after an overtime loss in the Big East semifinals, the Hoyas were out of the NCAA's. Two days later, thanks to a perceived slight by the ESPN schedulers, the NIT was out, too. Sweetney finished the season averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds, and was named to the first team All-Big East roster.
For his junior year, Sweetney literally carried the team. Kevin Braswell had graduated, Harvey Thomas had left GU for a junior college en route to a one year stop at Baylor, and Wesley Wilson would end up leaving the team in mid-season but finished his degree. Sweetney had to be the leader, and he delivered.
Sweetney led the team in scoring 25 times, never scoring below double figures. He led the team in rebounding 29 times, with 16 double figure rebound efforts. Shooting 55 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the line, he accounted for nearly a third of the team's offense that season. Sweetney opened Big East play with 35 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime win versus West Virginia and never let up. His 25.1 per game average trails only Allen Iverson for a single season average, with sterling efforts against Notre Dame (38 points, 15 rebounds), at Syracuse (32 points, 13 rebounds), Pitt (28 points, 8 rebounds), and home versus Syracuse (31 points, 19 rebounds).
At season's end, Sweetney had led the Hoyas to the brink of the NIT championship, leading the team in scoring in his final seven games and 13 of its last 15. Sweetney's season was nothing short of remarkable, even if the nation's press downplayed his accomplishments and offered only honorable mention All-America status. His 776 points in a season was third most in school history.
In the off-season, head coach Craig Esherick discussed the opportunities for Sweetney in the NBA, and Sweetney opted for the draft in June 2003, becoming only the third early entry in school history. Sweetney was selected by the New York Knicks with the ninth pick of the 2003 draft. In his fourth season, he averages four points and three rebounds a game in a reserve role.
One can imagine what the last two years of Mike Sweetney's college career would have been like with a couple of breaks here and there--without the team's late game collapses, or with someone adding a clutch three pointer here and there. It's all a what-if scenario, of course.
One doesn't have to imagine what Georgetown basketball of these years would have been like without him, though. The 2003-04 season was evidence enough.