Greg Whittington

Greg Whittington (US Presswire / March 16, 2012)

The list of high-major college basketball players who finished their high school careers in Howard County public schools is a short one.

It’s so short, in fact, that just one player over the past 10 years fits that criterion. Georgetown sophomore Greg Whittington, Oakland Mills class of 2011, knows that he’s a member of an increasingly exclusive club. But as he prepared for his freshman season with the Hoyas last year, where he came from was the furthest thing from his mind.

“Some of the kids come from well-named schools. I come from a public school in Howard County,” Whittington said. “They were probably more prepared [for college basketball] than I was. But I still came in with the mindset of staying focused.”

That mindset was clearly the right approach for Whittington, who also played for an under-the-radar AAU team – with no shoe deal – in HCYP Elite. Whittington’s numbers might have been modest last season, but he exhibited plenty of potential in showing that he’ll likely be one of Baltimore’s best college players for the next few years.

Whittington’s transition to high-major hoops was expedited a bit thanks to Georgetown’s exhibition tour to China in the summer of 2011. By the time the regular season rolled around last fall, Whittington said he was well prepared for the inevitable challenges he’d face.

“The first moment when I stepped on the floor, it was like a big surprise,” he said. “I came in ready. I knew it was going to be a big stage, but I stayed focused. Everything came natural.”

In the Hoyas’ season-opening win over Savannah State, Whittington scored eight points in just 17 minutes, shooting 3-for-4 from the field (2-for-3 from 3-point range).

Once Georgetown entered Big East play, Whittington had carved out a niche for himself as a versatile defender off the bench who could score as needed. The 6-foot-8, 212-pound forward presented all sorts of problems for opponents on the defensive end. The Washington Times even wrote last January that Whittington “could wind up becoming one of the best defensive players in school history.”

Coach John Thompson III “knew with my length that I could guard multiple positions,” Whittington said. “Against smaller guards, I keep my distance. Against bigger people, I push up on them. ... I can guard most of the 1 through 4 positions. So it was just real good.”

Whittington’s development as a defender continued once conference play began, as did his comfort in Georgetown’s Princeton offense. Learning the Hoyas’ system was certainly an adjustment for the Columbia native, but several games during the latter half of the 2011-12 season showed that he was “getting used to the flow of the offense.”

Never was that more evident than in Georgetown’s 71-61 win over St. John’s last February. Whittington poured in 12 points (5-for-8 from the field) in just 25 minutes to lead the Hoyas in scoring.

“Everything just clicked,” Whittington said. “I just went into the flow of the game and let everything come to me. It felt like a normal basketball game.”

Two weeks later in a win over Notre Dame, Whittington went 5-for-6 (including 3-for-3 from 3-point range) to score a team-high 15 points in 24 minutes.

Whittington knows he’ll be counted on for more performances like that as a sophomore. The Hoyas lost their top three scorers in Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims (Mount St. Joseph). Whittington, who finished his freshman season averaging 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game, is likely in line for more playing time as a sophomore.

“I don’t know [about my role] yet. We’ll have to wait for the season,” he said. “[But] I’ve been working on my game, trying to go get stronger [and] just preparing myself for this season.”

Whittington spent most of his summer in D.C., save for about three weeks or so spent at his home in Columbia. He’s thought about the progress he’s made from his time at Oakland Mills to Georgetown, which finished 24-9 last season. For his second college season, Whittington isn’t changing his goals a bit.

“I know the fans want to see trophies and banners hung up in the gyms, so that mindset and focus is for this year,” Whittington. “[I’m] hoping that [we’re a] tournament team, we can win as [many] games as we can, hopefully make the big dance and make Coach proud.”

mbracken@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mattbracken

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The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.