As the GW men’s basketball team’s three-hour practice winds down Tuesday afternoon, Mike King stands at the free throw line practicing foul shots.
An onlooker would probably not be able to tell that King has been at GW for only a couple of weeks. The lanky 6-5 freshman guard displays an easygoing and confident smile and playfully hides his face in his buff and blue tank top. In person, it is easy to see why this newcomer has captured the hearts and imaginations of many GW fans.
The story of how Mike King arrived at GW begins 10 years ago, when he started playing competitive basketball in Baltimore, Md.
It was in the recreation leagues that King eventually met up with Shawnta Rogers, the Colonials’ starting point guard.
“We grew up playing in the same recreation league, so we’ve been playing together for a long time,” King says.
Later the two would play high school basketball together during Rogers’ junior and senior years at Lake Clifton High School in Baltimore. King says he became attached to Rogers as a teammate and as a friend.
“He is like a big brother for me,” King says. “I have three brothers, and he’s like my fourth.” King adds that Rogers drives him on the basketball court.
“He is a motivator,” King says. “He makes you work hard on and off the court. When we’re on the court he pushes me to play harder, and I like that. I like someone to stay on my back and push me to play basketball the way I can play.”
On his own
After Rogers left to attend GW, King began to stand out on his own, averaging 21.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists as a senior at Lake Clifton.
Thanks to those big numbers, high-level college basketball programs began recruiting King, including Georgetown University, Providence College, University of Minnesota and University of Virginia.
“I wanted to go to Virginia, but I really wanted to play with Shawnta again,” King says.
Although King decided he wanted to play basketball and pursue an education at GW, he was not academically eligible to enroll when fall semester 1997 arrived.
He failed to earn the minimum SAT score to qualify under NCAA rules. On his second attempt, King came up 20 points short.
During the fall semester King decided to attend St. Thomas Moore Preparatory School in Connecticut while he awaited results of his third attempt to pull down a qualifying score on the SATs.
After living in a city all his life, adjusting to a rural prep school setting turned out to be a difficult task for King.
“It was awkward because I was used to seeing a lot of buildings, and I was seeing a lot of trees and lakes,” he says. “When I got there, I started looking around and I said `Aw, man, I’m out in the boondocks, I’m all the way out in the wilderness.’ “
As it turned out, King had to spend just one semester at St. Thomas Moore. In late December, King found out he had earned a qualifying score – he would be able to come to GW for spring semester.
“When I got the letter (with the score), I was watching George Washington play Kentucky,” King says. “I opened the letter, and I just said, `I’m gone, I’m going to George Washington.’ “
King became officially eligible Dec. 29 and made his GW debut Jan. 7, scoring seven points in a win over Duquesne.
Two free throws
The next two weeks, though, had much more in store for Mike King.
King saw his first action in the second half of Jan. 14th’s game against then 18th-ranked Xavier. After leading for much of the game, GW had fallen behind. King gave them a needed boost.
“I try to bring a spark to the team,” King says. “If it wasn’t for the team, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do.”
Despite King’s second-half heroics, GW still trailed 68-66 in the final seconds. Center Alexander Koul missed a short jumper in the lane, which King rebounded. He put back the missed shot and was fouled with .1 second left on the clock. King would have to make both free throws to tie the game.
“I’ve practiced that (situation) time and time again when I used to live in Baltimore,” King says. “When I was up at the courts I would sit there and say to myself, `My team’s down two points with no time left on the clock. I’ve got to sink two free throws to tie it up.’ ”
Like a scene out of a movie, King calmly stepped to the free throw line and hit the bottom of the net with both shots to send the game into overtime. GW won.
“My mind was just blank,” King says. “I couldn’t be nervous because everyone was being nervous for me.”
GW next faced Dayton Jan. 18. King made his first-ever collegiate start, pouring in 22 points. The Colonials routed the Flyers 81-61.
“He can slash, he can stick the outside jump shot when we need it,” Rogers says of his teammate. “He’s a big time player – he’s always been that kind of player.”
King maintains that getting the nod to start at shooting guard was not a big deal.
“Starting and coming off the bench are two different things, but it’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes,” King said, mimicking a line GW head coach Mike Jarvis often delivers in post-game press conferences. “I just try to come in and give quality minutes and play hard.”
When King joined the GW squad, he came onto a team that was 12-2, and that, with a few exceptions, had been playing together for a couple of years. A newcomer getting so much playing time might cause problems at another school, but King seems to strengthen the Colonials.
“They are all such unselfish players, and they are basically interested in what’s best for the team,” Jarvis explains. “They have made it possible for Mike to come and to fit in and not worry about the fact that he might be taking minutes away from someone else. They could have been selfish and we could have had a chemistry problem, which we don’t.”
“The team is great,” King says. “They have accepted me, and they are helping me learn. At most schools you wouldn’t find people like that who would help you out.”
On the court
King exudes a youthful exuberance and energy on the Colonials’ court.
“He is hungry,” Rogers says. “He is hungrier than most guys here, and that’s good for us.” While some players avoid turbulence, King says he feeds on emotion.
“Emotion helps out a lot,” King says. “If you get a bad call, and you can get emotional you say, `Forget it, I’m going to get it back now.’ You might come down and get a steal, you might get a big rebound or you might come down and hit a big shot.”
But King says that, no matter what, he always has fun playing the game he loves.
“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there,” King says. “If you take it all business, you shouldn’t play. It gets boring. If you are playing just to get to the (National Basketball Association) or something, you should drop it.”