I don’t want to hear about Mike Jarvis. There’s nothing to be envious of. You say we lost a great one? Well, I tell you we got a better one. Tom Penders didn’t mind telling people he always makes programs better. Even here, where we were seemingly content, he found room for improvement, bringing GW its first outright regular season title since 1954.
Last Friday afternoon (in his, might I say, posh office across the street from the Smith Center), I quizzed the man himself on a variety of topics relating to the future of the program (which, whether you like it or not, has a lot to do with the progress of this University). So, fans, here’s a few things to chew on while you watch GW grad John Flaherty and the rest of Major League Baseball for the next seven months.
First of all, look for local high school studs Val Brown and forward Chris Monroe to become dorm room names next season. Brown will almost certainly be GW’s starting point guard – and not to get you too excited – the man does have an NBA tattoo on his arm. But Penders, always one to play down expectations, “The two kids we’ve signed are as good a duo as anyone else in the country has . Val’s the best prospect I’ve seen since Allen Iverson.”
Also, concerns about their grades are unfounded, Penders said. They’re all set to play next year, in addition to a few more recruits Penders will try to land in the coming weeks.
To see Monroe and Brown play as teammates for the first time, mosey on down to the MCI Center Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., when the Capital All-Stars take the court against the U.S. All-Stars in the Reebok Capital Classic. Tickets are as cheap as $7.50.
With the addition of his recruits, Penders expects a more athletic team, which will mean more running and pressing. That creates an exciting style of play, which in turn leads to the No. 1 goal of any burgeoning program – television exposure.
The Atlantic 10 and ESPN are, Penders said, eager to get GW on TV more, especially after the Xavier game.
“A lot of it has to do with your style of play and having players people want to watch,” Penders said. “Dave Sims, who called the game for ESPN, wanted to get a copy of the game for his own personal library.”
GW faces two complications right now when it comes to playing big-time games. Big programs won’t play in the itty-bitty Smith Center, and in the short term, GW has obligations to fill with schools such as Bradley and Old Dominion universities.
“I would rather play Arizona and Utah, myself,” Penders said.
And back to the Smith Center problem. It can never be enlarged significantly, so we are left with the administration’s answer to everything – the MCI Center. Right now, it’s the full-time home of those 15-16 clowns at Georgetown University, and in fact, Penders mentioned the possibility of holding a doubleheader with those baseball cap-wearing dogs (the Hoyas, not Spuds McKenzie).
Now, this might seem controversial, but I promise it’s the only way GW’ll ever play schools like the University of Arizona. Penders said it is really Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz’s territory. But Penders does have one requirement before we start rubbing elbows with GW alum and Wizards’ owner Abe Pollin:
“I’m thrilled with the student group that comes to games. We’re gonna put a team out there that people are gonna want to see . I want to make sure the students who support us get prime seats there, at real low prices – like a couple bucks. And free transportation.”
For now, all of this is just philosophical. Here’s what’s concrete for next season’s schedule. The BB&T Classic at the MCI Center will (as of now) pit GW against Seton Hall University and the University of Maryland against Illinois University, setting up the real possibility of a GW/Maryland game. Right before Thanksgiving, GW is set to play in the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Besides a Mark Lund homecoming, it will be Penders’s chance at 500 victories (he has 498), if it is the season-opener. The field includes National Invitational Tournament Champion University of California and three Texas schools (Texas A& M University, Texas Christian University, and the University of Houston), but alas, no University of Texas. But with Penders, Clyde Drexler and Billy Tubbs, expect excitement (predicted score if TCU and Billy-Ball plays GW and Penders-Ball: 250-249).
Also, look for a new jersey philosophy.
“Our uniform – it’s not our colors,” Penders said. “I liked the tournament uniforms we wore. We’re gonna get buff back into our uniforms. I want a tradition started. I don’t want new uniforms every year. For television, you want something you can see and has tradition.”
And what about the merchandise problem, namely the lack of a facsimile uniform or warm-ups on sale even at the GW Bookstore?
“That’s part of why I want to go simple,” Penders said. “You can’t make that (this year’s uniform) and have students afford it.”
As for Penders’ immediate future, don’t expect him to be going anywhere, even Rhode Island (he left there after two years, too – I see a pattern). Penders has five years on his contract. When that’s up, he may stay, or he’ll go to television, but he promises you’ll never hear his name mentioned at another school (a welcome assurance after the constant “Jarvis Watch”).
“I couldn’t possibly think of leaving here for any other school,” Penders said. “Unless something happens with my health, I want to end my career here.”
So there you go. There are other issues, semi-beyond Penders’s control, such as what players will stay for next year, or what ramifications the Big East Conference’s search for an even number will have on GW’s conference status. Questions like that, and administrative questions like MCI Center games, Smith Center improvements, and GW merchandise will continue to shake out over the next year or so. But rest assured, GW athletics are in surprisingly skilled hands. It’s not for nothing that Kvancz was given a four-year term on the nine-person NCAA Tournament Selection Committee (yes, that was Jack courtside at the “Final Four”). Contrary to the whiners who so often are quoted in this fine paper, I agree with Penders, who meant this remark to refer to the administration, all the way up to Stephen Joel Trachtenberg:
“If you’re a student, you should be proud of the way they’re doing things.”
– I gotta brag. I picked the University of Connecticut to win it all. But I guarantee I wasn’t the only one on campus. Not only do we have a former player (Thomas Penders, 1967, just under 10 points per game), but GW’s assistant athletic director, Dom Perno was a player (1964) and Jim Calhoun’s immediate predecessor as UConn head coach, compiling a nice winning record from 1977-’86. Like I said, surprisingly skilled hands in our athletics department.
– Now, a few short shots in my final basketball column for awhile . Can we agree to forget about UMass (they don’t care about us) and call Xavier our biggest rival now? . If Shawnta Rogers had been given the honor he deserved, namely being put on the Associated Press All-American team (the important one), he would have been only GW’s second AP All-American, after Joe Holup (1956) . GW was the only A-10 team to win at La Salle this year . For the first time in at least a decade, GW played no overtime games (thanks to Roey Eyal at Illinois, and Shawnta against Old Dominion, La Salle, and Xavier) . It’s not “X-zavier,” it’s pronounced “Zavier” . Penderism of the Year (actually, there are so many), said at the Xavier press conference: “No matter whatever bullshit you’re hearing out of the University of Texas, it’s fundamentals that win basketball games.”