To make a run in March, GW must have experienced veterans that step up in big games.
With senior tri-captains Shawnta Rogers, Yegor Mescheriakov and Seco Camara, the Colonials will be in good hands.
New head coach Tom Penders has taken over a team that lost to Oklahoma State University in disappointing fashion in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Alexander Koul – the team’s center and senior leader – scored only three points that night.
GW’s captains can ill-afford to have such performances this season, especially against nationally ranked conference teams such as Temple and Xavier.
At the heart of the Colonials is senior point guard Shawnta Rogers. The Baltimore native averaged 14.7 points, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game last season and will be integral in an offense that features a new up-tempo style. Penders said it is essential that he run the offense and look for his shot first.
“When he doesn’t have the ball, he has to be squared and ready for the shot,” Penders said. “If anything, I want him to be more selfish.”
Rogers returned Penders’ praise.
“Coach Penders’ style of play is the style I’ve been wanting to play,” Rogers said. “But everyone else has to play their part.”
Another extremely valuable senior, Mescheriakov must rebound from an injury-plagued junior season and raise his level of play. Mescheriakov’s 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last year were down from his sophomore season when he scored 16.6 points a game and pulled down 6.4 rebounds on average. Now healthy, Mescheriakov looks to bang with the best of the A-10 forwards and wants to continue building his confidence throughout the season.
“I don’t want to let myself struggle,” Mescheriakov said. “I have to play one game at a time.”
Penders was excited with the practice performances of Rogers, Mescheriakov and sophomore Mike King, who Penders said is ready for action. King was 12 for 21 from the field with a game-high 28 points in the Colonials’ first exhibition game, a 108-81 victory over the One World Basketball team.
“They are exceptional people, strong leaders, they practice hard and they’re team players,” Penders said. “Yegor is a hard-working player, a joy to coach and once he speeds up a few of his moves and catches on to the style of play, he’s going to have a ball.”
Fellow senior Seco Camara, who averaged four points per game last year, is looking to be more aggressive on both ends of the court. Camara is aware that he has to drill the open three-point shots when the opportunities arise, and he knows he must provide leadership in practice. With an athletic freshman class and a healthy core of experienced players, the seniors have a strong supporting cast with which to work.
“I have to set an example because I’ve been there,” Camara said at a post-practice shoot around. “The freshmen are ready but they have to give their extra every time.”
Penders said his up-tempo style offense runs in an organized fashion and the play is keyed on where the first pass goes. The defense will include many full-court presses and immediate double-teams once the opponent reaches the half-court line. That makes Rogers’ responsibility even greater, as it is his job to push the ball, cause havoc on the press and find the open players on the court.
“Oh yeah, I want teams to press,” Penders said. “We have strong, smart guards.”
The 5-4 Rogers knows the season’s journey rests on his shoulders, but feels relaxed and excited with the new running style of play.
“Everyone has to play their part and it’s my job to try to guide people,” Rogers said. “They’ve got to keep up with me.”