Colonials Buff and ready

GW men’s basketball coach Tom Penders says at this time of the year, he always has the same opinion of how good his team is. He has no idea.

But in his second year as the Colonials’ top man, he feels the team is far more comfortable playing his up-tempo style than it was last season. With almost two weeks of practice under their waistbands, the Colonials are almost to a man well-conditioned, and in some ways ready to play.

Right now, our running and defense is better than it was at this point last year, Penders said Wednesday afternoon after practice at the Smith Center. Guys are well-conditioned and getting through practices. It’ll be nice to play somebody. Even though we’re at the stage where we don’t have a lot of stuff in yet, I’m ready to play another team and see how good we are.

That will have to wait until the exhibition opener Nov. 9 against the Five Star Hawks, but by appearances, the players are physically ready, even if few roles have been defined.

If we played tomorrow, I’d start (junior point guard) Bernard Barrow, (freshman guard) Val Brown, (junior guard) Mike King, (junior forward) Anxton Iturbe, and (sophomore center) Albert Roma, with (sophomore forward) Jason Smith first off the bench, said Penders. But that’s just if we played tomorrow. I can’t really make a lineup, and it would be unfair at this point in the season to tell you who our go-to guy will be.

On an individual level, Penders liked what he has seen from many of the returning players and his highly touted recruiting class.

Among returnees, there’s big improvement from Albert and Jason, he said. Cisco (senior forward Francisco de Miranda) is stronger, and I like his attitude. Quite frankly, I questioned at the end of last year how much he wanted to be here, but he’s a lot more dedicated this season.

As for junior forward Patrick Ngongba, who broke out last year, Penders reported that he has been sick and hasn’t been at practice in a week. In addition, freshman guard Chris Monroe’s progress was stunted by a broken nose and the resulting deviated septum, which kept him out of conditioning for three weeks. But the other newcomers have come along nicely, Penders said.

Val and Bernard look like they’ve been here a year, he said. They’ve adjusted to the pace of the game. Bernard, Val and the rest can run all day. But Chris is getting there. Just the last couple of days, he’s been able to compete.I have no doubt in my mind that he can play 25 to 30 minutes a game.

As far as leadership and go-to guys on offense, the latter is still up in the air, but the former looks like old times, with the 5-8 Bernard Barrow taking over for the 5-4 Shawnta Rogers.

I miss both those guys (Rogers and 1999 graduate Yegor Mescheriakov), said Penders. But Mike is doing more on leadership. Bernard is a leader like Shawnta. Now that he’s learned what we’re doing, he’s not afraid to tell people where to go.Are Val and Bernard as good as Shawnta? Probably not. But will they be? Who knows.

As for the fundamentals, Penders focused on defense in practice earlier than he was able to last year (the team gave up an average of 74 points a game last season).

I feel like our defense is a little farther along than our offense, Penders said. Last year, I was just trying to get them to play at a quicker pace. They do that now. We’ve got numbers. We’re trying to wear teams down – pressure `D.’

As for offense, Penders predicts a three-guard lineup, with Barrow, King, and Brown seeing simultaneous action. He sees the team running few set plays and just letting the guards create.

Bernard and Val should play together a lot, he said. Right now, definitely a three-guard lineup. When Mike’s out there, we have three pure guards. With this team, we’re trying to play off our defense and create spacing on offense for Val and Bernard to find scoring opportunities and create them for others.

Many expect Mike King, GW’s highest-returning scorer, to fill some of Rogers’ and Mescheriakov’s scoring void. Penders thinks King will have the opportunity to do so, although he may not need to.

Mike’s not gonna’ have as much defensive pressure, he said. Other teams last year were able to put their best defender on him, but now they have to deal with Val and Bernard. Our strength is our two guards. Both of those guys could start at most schools in the conference.

As for shooting, which (at 41.3 percent last year) could be called a weakness, Penders is optimistic.

I think we’re a better shooting team than last year, but I don’t want to emphasize that, he said.

Penders said Jason Smith, who sat out much of last year with an injury, has put on 20 pounds, and, although he’s not as offensive-minded like Mescheriakov, he’s been all over the boards in practice.

He’s doing some really good things, said Penders.

With Smith looking to see action past December this year, and with the three newcomers impressing in practice, GW fans may need a program at the exhibition opener – but that unfamiliarity could fade fast.

The new players have added a lot, Penders said. All three of the new kids are kids who like to play.

Basketball Notes:

– Shawnta Rogers played seven minutes for the New Jersey Nets Sunday night but was waived Monday. He has returned home to Baltimore and was unavailable for comment. Penders has been unable to reach Rogers since he was waived but said that both the International Basketball League and the Continental Basketball Association are eager to get him.

– As for Rogers’ former teammate Yegor Mescheriakov, he replied this week from Italy to an August e-mail. He said (as previously reported) that after two weeks with Montecatini, an A1 League team, he was waived because they needed more of a banger and rebounder. Now, he’s with Avellino.

Well, it has been quite a year as you are well aware, and after all the travel was over I found myself in Avellino, which is 20 minutes away from Naples, he wrote. The team desperately needed a scorer who can contribute 20 points a game and I fit this role. Avellino is a team of the second Division A2 of the First League (League A). So far we have played six games and won four. I was averaging about 17.5 points and seven rebounds. The championship has 30 games plus playoffs. In addition, I’ll play for the National Team of Belarus: three games in Nov. and two in Feb., so I’ll be busy.

Also, I’d like to thank all the students and fans for supporting the GW basketball program and me in particular over the years in GW. I still remember all these days and tremendously miss GW.

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