The old guard is long gone – those names that kept GW on the basketball map in the mid-1990s. People like Mike Jarvis, Alexander Koul and now finally Shawnta Rogers and Yegor Mescheriakov. In their place have arrived the players that will lead the buff and blue into the next century, men like Bernard Barrow, Mike King, SirValiant Brown, Chris Monroe – a core of raw basketball talent the likes of which Colonial fans have rarely seen.
But also rare is when a team rests its fortunes on two point guards that have never played a minute of Division I basketball – and this is where the GW men’s basketball team and second-year coach Tom Penders find themselves. The 1999-2000 season is an enigma – holding promise, entertainment and intrigue but, in all ways, totally unpredictable.
If we stay healthy, I think we have a chance to be real good, but we have a long way to go, Penders said.
The Colonials have a long way to go because the players who scored over half of the Colonials’ 80 points a game last season are gone. Rogers, Mescheriakov and Seco Camara graduated. Roey Eyal and Daniel Soares left school, and Andry Sola transferred. What’s left is a group of Jarvis-recruited players and an ever-growing cadre of quick, athletic guards that signify one thing – Penders-Ball has almost arrived.
With a starting lineup of three guards, led by junior college transfer Bernard Barrow, freshman SirValiant Brown and junior Mike King, the Colonials will run and they will gun, but whether they will win depends on the progression of Brown and Barrow, who along with King will assume much of the scoring duties this season.
Penders plans to play the three guards together as much as possible.
I hope to play them together as a group 28 to 32 minutes a game, he said. If two of the three are clicking, we’re gonna be a good offensive team.
But Penders stressed that he doesn’t know yet exactly where the scoring will come from, or if such knowledge will be important this year.
We’ve got to get so much from this guy, so much from that guy – that was our team last year, he said. Shawnta and Yegor had to perform. What I want from those three guys is consistency on defense. We want to think defense first.
For offense, Penders expects to play off his defense and get what he calls opportunity baskets. Otherwise, he sees a basic offense with few set plays and lots of creativity on the part of Barrow and Brown.
I wouldn’t know who to run the plays for, said Penders. Val and Bernard have the ability to break down the offense. I want the frontcourt to create space and let the guards create opportunities. We have to share the basketball, create off the dribble and run the court. I think you’ll see a lot more assists this year.
As for the frontcourt, Penders expects to usually start junior forward Antxon Iturbe because of his defense and experiment in the exhibition games with the center position. Junior Patrick Ngongba, sophomore Albert Roma and GW’s only senior who sees significant action, Francisco de Miranda, will all be vying for the spot.
Starting is really not important in our system, he said. The starting five, to me, means very little. I don’t like to have a drop-off when I go to the bench. I like a guy at every position who can come in and give us a spark. I may change the five position a lot from game to game.
In terms of sixth men, Chris Monroe, who Penders says is not immediately ready to play significant time because a broken nose kept him out of conditioning, will eventually become the dangerous, explosive guard off the bench that Penders craves. Sophomore Jason Smith, too, will bring his acrobatics off the bench. Beyond those two are several players who Penders will rely on for that spark, including guard/forwards like Dorien Brown and Valery Khamenia.
The schedule will prepare these young Colonials for the rigors of Division I play, but it might also punish them. GW faces up to five games against teams that received votes in the preseason coaches’ poll – all before New Year’s.
The Atlantic 10 schedule is also fraught with the usual perils, but if the Colonials can learn the ropes by January or February, the dark horse label Tom Penders-teams always have carried may once again apply.
One player who GW depends on for that crucial leadership come conference time is Bernard Barrow, who is essentially running the show at this point, and who knows a thing or two about having the confidence that Penders craves in his players.
I feel real confident because there’s so many people that are confident in me, he said. They’ve given me the ball.
Barrow says he learned a lot about leadership from observing Shawnta Rogers, and, although he’s his own man, he thinks that Rogers opened the doors for people like the 5-8 Barrow. Barrow fit well with Penders and, by all appearances, the players and coaches are a tight bunch.
I don’t think about no personal goals, Barrow said. We a team – a chain. All of us got one goal. That’s to win the NCAA Championship. To get a ring – that’s my goal. I feel if you’re not hungry like that, what’s your purpose?
I love Coach Penders. With his history, you have to listen. You’re a fool if you don’t.
And if one listens to Penders, they would hear that this young team, come March, could be very good. And with Penders’ history and those Sweet 16s and Elite Eights under his belt – who’s going to doubt it?