Friday, February 6, 2015

GW likes buzzer-beaters against Dayton

Today's game is a big one, and if other GW-Dayton games are a guide for today, it's going to be a close one. BM over at reminded me of three (!) buzzer-beaters GW has had against the Flyers from Ohio. To wit:

Carl Elliott's almost half-court buzzer beater in 2005:

Isaiah Armwood's monstrous putback in 2013:

And Wynton Witherspoon's three (remember him?) in 2008:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A call to arms: let's pack the Smith Center!

by Endrit Demi

A battle is brewing in Foggy Bottom.  A battle not fought in the name of greed, revenge, or jealousy, but rather for the hearts and minds of a very fickle breed: the George Washington University student.  Having been one myself, I know the type.  Excited about being in the nation’s capital, into all things global and political; adventurous, sometimes spoiled; seeking to help others and to better the world; and into sports too, if there’s time.

These are generalizations, but it’s hard not to generalize when describing a student body of 25,000 and a collection of global alumni 200,000 strong.

That’s not to say that GW students don’t have a sports-fan bone in their body. Those who were around to witness the Sweet Sixteen run in 1993 can attest to that, as can those lucky enough to see the King Whale Killer (Pops Mensah-Bonsu), Mike Hall and company bring GW to a #6 national ranking in 2006.  I was one of the latter and still vividly recall having one leg over the Smith Center railing on Senior Day in anticipation of a frenzied court rush, triggered by Carl Elliott’s last-second put-back to preserve an undefeated conference season. (See photo above.)

After that magical season ended, the GW men’s basketball program was not able to capitalize on its success and floundered for several years, culminating with the firing of Coach Karl Hobbs. 

Enter Mike Lonergan. A Maryland native, Coach Lonergan led Catholic University to the Division III title in 2001 and brought the University of Vermont to national prominence.  Then came the opportunity to come back home to rebuild the Colonials.  Not even halfway through his fourth year, he has already taken the team back to the NCAA tournament and has established a culture of winning and academic success.  He seems to have all the tools to make GW basketball a local favorite and a national staple: good players, good recruits, the right assistants on staff, an eager athletics department -- except for that fickle GW fanbase.

This is not an indictment of the GW community. That community is strong both locally and internationally, but when it comes to regular attendance at basketball games, we fall a little flat.  And our coaches are noticing. Here’s Coach Lonergan after the A-10 home opener:
It was disappointing. I told my assistant, "God, we are 11-3 playing the two-time defending [regular season] champs and there are a lot of empty seats." I know our students aren’t here, but we played St. Joe’s [over the weekend in Philadelphia], it was a sellout. I think we will sell out games now -- the Daytons, the VCUs -- but we’ve got to get people to come out every day.
I get it.  There are a lot of wild and wonderful diversions in Washington, DC.  I take advantage of them every day.  And it’s not like attendance at the Smith Center is anemic -- the last couple of weekends have seen a big uptick -- but we can do better.  We have in the past, and I think we will in the future.  Athletic Director Patrick Nero and Coach Lonergan are laying the groundwork required for sustained long-term success that I know will broaden the fanbase.  But why wait until that happens when we have exciting basketball to watch now? Have you seen this team?!

A Core Four of athletic juniors, Coach Lonergan’s first big recruiting class, who gel incredibly well and provide matchup nightmares for opposing teams. Game to game, you may be able to neutralize one or two, but you can’t contain them all.

Joe McDonald (JoeMac) is a consummate floor general, able to control the pace of the game and of his own play – feeding the action on a regular basis and jumping to action when the team needs a bailout.

(Macho Man) Kethan Savage lives up to his name on a daily basis.  HAVE YOU SEEN HIM DUNK?  Check out his resume here, here, and here.

Patricio Garino (Pato) is basketball’s Renaissance man: he can do it all.  He rebounds on both ends, is a pesky thief, a block party planner and a contortionist. Scientists are still working to classify some of his amazing layups.

Kevin Larsen (KevLar) has a somewhat misleading nickname.  While he is as tough as Kevlar, he is also as graceful as a ballet dancer.  He can overpower you down low, but also has quick hands, quick feet and great court vision – as you would have seen with his two recent behind-the-back passes in traffic.

Senior captain John Kopriva (#DrJohn) has made a huge leap in on-court execution this season -- perfectly timed to fill in the gaps left behind by the graduated Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood.  And he does this on the heels of fulfilling a pre-med degree while on the dean’s list.  What did you do today?

Yuta Watanabe, the 6’7” big man from Japan, has more tools than there are botched pronunciations of his name by sports anchors – though ESPN’s pronunciation as WIN-tanabe is coming true. Tall, quick and confident with his shot, he has matured into this team’s Sixth Man faster than anyone could have expected.  Keep an eye on this guy – he’s going to be really special.

And I haven’t even delved deeper into the likes of 3-point-specialist Nick Griffin, defensive hound dog Darian Bryant, assist-aficionado Paul “Prince Harry of Harlem” Jorgensen, and Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh who is sitting out this year but will be a stud next year, among others. 

You get the picture.  This team is good. Very Good.  (And I know I’m saying this in the midst of a two game skid, but it makes my point even more important in light of our crucial home game against Dayton this Friday at 7pm!)

So here is my plea: come to the games.  If you already do, come to more of them.  Invite your friends, family, coworkers, wacky neighbors, sorority, fraternity, Secret Santa, the guy who runs the kabob food truck, and maybe your dog too. Ok, not the dog, but definitely all those other people.  Even if they aren’t hoops fans, the game is a lot of fun (and they sell beer now.) If they are basketball fans, even better: Lonergan’s 1-3-1 defense and a Japanese forward are not something you see every day.

Building a community is a team effort, the responsibility of which stretches beyond the basketball team itself.  They support our community by giving us something to be proud of and to rally behind.  We can give back by showing up and being loud and being amazed. 

And the same goes for the women’s team, who just entered the top 25 poll after 17 straight wins. 
When the Smith Center is packed, it’s not an experience you’ll ever forget.  Who knows?  Maybe one day you’ll make your own “one leg across the railing in anticipation of a buzzer beater court rush” memory.

You can get college basketball tickets here.