The Smith Center isn't just the building where Jabari Edwards and Joseph Katuka played basketball during their undergraduate careers. For the two seniors, it's representative of so much more: the sport that changed their lives.
Neither player would be graduating from GW if he hadn't played basketball, the two said. Katuka is the first to graduate from college in his family, a distinction he speaks of with pride, and an accomplishment he attributes to the drive he has found on the court.
"Basketball has changed my life, has turned my life around," Katuka said. "To get this education, to make friends, to have the opportunity I have right now. To keep dreaming about basketball."
Edwards spoke of the doors that the sport has opened for him, especially academically. Staying focused and driven on the court, he said, allowed him to be equally successful in the classroom, giving him a chance at an education he might not have otherwise received. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native credits basketball as the driving force behind his path to D.C. and his career as a Colonial.
"Basketball's meant everything to me," Edwards said. "Not a lot of people where I'm from get a chance to go to GW."
It's understandable, then that the two don't intend to leave basketball behind once they cross the stage, receive their diplomas and switch their tassels. Katuka will be headed to Florida after graduation, and intends on taking some time to pursue his dream of playing basketball professionally.
"I'm going to play basketball," Katuka said. "Head back to Florida, work out. I haven't talked to my agent about anything [specific] but I do have an agent."
Edwards, too, will continue his play. Due to a medical hardship waiver in his first season at GW, Edwards has one more season of NCAA eligibility left. He plans to use it to don his uniform as a Colonial one last time, again taking to the court in the Smith Center while enrolled in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at GW. After this season, when the Colonials finished fourth in the A-10, it's a chance for Edwards to take his team to a new level of success. He led the Colonials in blocked shots this season, slamming back 36 attempts despite only playing in 16 games, making Edwards a veteran defensive force heading into next season.
Edwards will return to a markedly different program on the court than the one that he walked away from in March. The University hired Mike Lonergan, the former six-year head coach at the University of Vermont, to replace Karl Hobbs as the head coach of the men's basketball program. Lonergan will be taking the helm of a team recruited and developed to suit Hobbs' coaching style, but Edwards doesn't anticipate difficulties from the new direction. They're a resilient team, he said, one continually striving for success.
"Of course it's going to be difficult. We came here to play for coach Hobbs and the entire staff, they recruited us, that's what assistants do," Edwards said. "But I think guys are mature enough, they understand the situation and are going to respond accordingly."
The paths of Katuka and Edwards will diverge after graduation, separated by state lines and future plans. They will still be drawn together, the two say, by their team, the common bond to which they both owe so much. It's a family, the seniors say, and one neither intends to walk away from.
"I'll be in and out," Katuka said. "We're a family. I'm going to come check them out, we're always going to keep in contact."