Mike Lonergan is outspoken about his belief in the importance of recruiting locally, continually praising the level of basketball he has found in and around D.C.
It shows on his roster, with three new Colonial faces calling the District and its surrounding areas home. But another aspect of GW’s lineup provides a shift almost 180 degrees from the head coach’s local focus: With three new international recruits this year, the team will suit up five players who hail from different countries.
While integrating five players from five different cultures and countries seemed complex at first, freshman guard/forward Patricio Garino noted that, for the most part, there is no cultural barrier for the Colonials’ newest members. They all attended high school in the U.S. , aiding their transition into American collegiate life.
“Language was never a barrier for any of us, [because] we finished high school here, so we have advanced English,” Garino said. “We still struggle a little bit, with accents or different words, but we were always integrated.”
Garino, who hails from Mar del Plata, Argentina, joins freshman forward Kevin Larsen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, and freshman forward Paris Maragkos, who calls Amarousi, Greece his home, in adding some international flair to this season’s rookie class.
Junior forward Nemanja Mikic, from Novi Sad, Serbia and senior forward Dwayne Smith, from Toronto, Ontario, round out the team’s international contingent. The mix is a strong one, Lonergan points out, because of the very nature of a university like GW, where 7 percent of the undergraduate population comes from foreign countries.
“We have five international players on our team now, and that’s something we really are trying to focus on in recruiting, because it’s a great campus to be international and a great city,” Lonergan said.
The three new international recruits shared the same motivation behind their decision to head to America for their high school careers: They wanted to combine their love of basketball with a top-notch education, and they sought the chance to see how far their affection for the game could carry them.
The level of talent stateside is often more advanced, Larsen said, and all three welcomed the chance for the additional challenge.
“I just wanted to try my talents out and see how good I did against better players,” Larsen said. “It turned out real well.”
Larsen suited up for Montrose Christian, in Rockville, Md., for the last two seasons of his high school career. There, the 6-foot-10, 264-pound player helped his squad garner national attention, averaging 8.2 points per game last season while the team went 21-3. He credits his time at Montrose Christian with helping him prepare for the transition to collegiate play, adding that his high school had an atmosphere similar to GW's.
Maragkos competed at Blue Ridge High School in Charlottesville, Va., and was ranked last year by Eurohopes.com as the ninth-best overall prospect from Europe for players born in 1994.
And Garino played at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla. – the same school that produced former Colonial big man Joe Katuka and the school where current GW assistant coach Kevin Sutton served as the boys’ basketball head coach for eight years.
It was important for Garino to come to the U.S. , he said, because he wanted the freedom to earn an education and get a college experience, while continuing to play the game he loves.
“In Argentina, once you decide to play basketball, you don’t have time for anything else,” Garino said.
Another integral factor that helped the three freshmen transition to GW was the presence of Mikic, a player who also decided to travel to America for college to pursue his dual dreams of higher education and stronger competition.
Mikic’s presence has also aided in recruiting, Lonergan said, because his experiences provide a backdrop to help the program assuage the nerves of international recruits and their parents.
“I love Nemanja. He’s a low-maintenance guy. He’s been terrific,” Lonergan said. “When those kids did visit we usually had him at those meals, [with] the parents especially so he could talk to them.”
On his behalf, the junior forward said he strives to be a mentor off the court and in the classroom.
“It’s nice to have somebody who kind of goes through a similar experience,” Mikic said. “Every player on our team feels a responsibility towards every single freshman, whether they're an international student or not.”
The three international recruits say their transition to college has been a relatively painless one, and they point to the tight-knit nature of the Colonials squad as a main reason.
It’s easy to feel at home when your teammates become like your brothers, Larsen added.
“I always feel like I am part of the team,” Larsen said. “We are like a family – nobody can feel left out. We are always there for each other, on and off the court.”
This article was updated Nov. 15, 2012 to reflect the following:
A photo caption incorrectly stated Kevin Larsen's name as Kethan Larsen.