Deficiencies in rebounding, outside shooting and experience added up to last year’s disappointing 15-14 season for the GW men’s basketball team.
Heading into the 1997-’98 season, the Colonials appear to have solved these three problems.
The addition of freshman power forwards Pat Ngongba and Antxon Iturbe – both 6-8 – should improve the team’s rebounding. With the power forward position now occupied, junior Yegor Mescheriakov will be free to move outside and find more scoring opportunities on the perimeter. Moving Mescheriakov back to small forward should improve the team’s outside shooting.
However, head coach Mike Jarvis sees improved inside play as the key to success.
“What I’m excited about is the inside game, because no matter what the perimeter game does, you win the game on the inside,” Jarvis said. “Even when you’re not getting things on the outside, if you can get something inside every night, then you’re going to win. If we could have gotten a few more rebounds a year ago, most people would not have recognized the fact that we didn’t shoot the ball real well.”
Ngongba, a native of the Central African Republic, was a top recruit a year ago, but was forced to sit out the season because of academic ineligibility. Iturbe, meanwhile, comes to GW from the highly regarded St. John’s at Prospect Hall.
“Both are very smart and very capable offensive and defensive players,” Jarvis said of Iturbe and Ngongba. “Neither one of them do I consider freshmen. Patrick was here a year ago and had the opportunity to practice, and did a great job for someone who wasn’t going to play. And Iturbe comes from one of the best high school programs in the country.”
The Colonials have only lost reserves from last year’s team. Ferdinand Williams graduated, while Kinte Smith transferred to the University of Richmond and Jackson Payne transferred to Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn.
GW returns last season’s starting lineup, making the Colonials a much more experienced team this year.
Last season, GW was a schizophrenic team, following solid victories with sloppy losses. The team never established a winning personality. GW played the entire middle of the season without winning back-to-back games. The Colonials’ longest winning streak last season was a mere three games.
GW’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament were killed by close losses to Xavier, Massachusetts and St. Joseph’s. Winning close games and sustaining a consistent performance will be keys to a successful season. These are skills that come with experience, and the Colonials are certainly more experienced this season.
GW returns all its key players, including the dynamic duo of 7-1 center Alexander Koul and 5-4 point guard Shawnta Rogers.
Koul, when playing well, is one of the top centers in the nation. However, last season Koul was inconsistent. The senior often was slowed by foul trouble, fouling out of nine games last season and collecting four fouls in 11 others. Staying out of foul trouble will be key if Koul is to make the improvements GW fans have been expecting.
Rogers is one of the quickest players in the nation. He distributes the ball and sparks the fast break, two things Jarvis wants to see more of this season, even if it causes a few more turnovers.
“We’re going to have a few more turnovers then we would like, for two reasons,” he said. “One is we’re going to run. Two is that everybody is expected to handle the ball, everybody’s going to be involved in the offense.”
Mescheriakov enters his junior season as an emerging scoring threat for the Colonials. Mescheriakov showed that he can take over games offensively toward the end of last season. His scoring average jumped to 16.6 points per game last season after he averaged 9.7 his freshman year.
The Colonials also will have improved depth. In addition to swingman J.J. Brade, forwards Darin Green and Seco Camara, and guard Rasheed Hazzard, GW also returns a good one-on-one defender in junior guard Andrei Krivonos.
GW has stars in Koul, Rogers and Mescheriakov. GW has depth and more experience, and the addition of Iturbe and Ngongba should improve the rebounding. With some improved shooting, GW has the pieces in place to make a run at the conference championship and in the NCAA Tournament.