If I write a lot of words, but my column sucks – does that make me a star?

For the next few paragraphs, I want you to forget that the GW men’s basketball team is 2-3. In fact, just forget this season. (Not that it’s over at all. I’ll elaborate later, and although in many ways this season is not what this season is probably going to be about, this season’s team is no cream puff. The looming BB&T Classic this weekend may make you think GW’s looking 2-5 right in the face, but remember this: two years ago, GW went on the road to play a no-good Texas Tech team and got absolutely hammered. A few days later, the Colonials shocked Maryland at the MCI Center and took the championship.)

No, brothers and sisters, I want you to do something for me. Think about next year. And the year after that. Look around campus. Take a few mental photos. Do the things anyone who could have seen the future 10 years ago might have done – back when GW was not a school that rolled off anyone’s tongue (basketball coaches or high school counselors). Why should you do this exercise? Why should you count the empty seats at the Smith Center and smile to yourself the way Michael Jordan must have back when he was cupping the ball and rising through the rafters of an empty Chicago Stadium?

Because everything’s changed in Foggy Bottom. No, not quite yet. Not even this year. But they’ll be here soon enough – the reporters, the satellite trucks, the Dickie V.’s of the world. They’ll be here. A month ago, Coach Tom Penders mentioned GW might have to deal with the problems of being a highly ranked team next preseason if the players stayed healthy. I didn’t doubt it. I knew these recruits were good players. But I didn’t really get it. I didn’t get it until I saw a true freshman score 31, 33 and 33 points in his third, fourth and fifth games. That’s the kind of stuff Allen Iverson did at Georgetown.

And just who did our man Penders always say SirValiant Brown reminded him of?

And we all just smiled politely.

Well, kids, welcome to the future. Of course, there’s a BIG caveat. If GW doesn’t win while SirValiant’s here, he just becomes one of those freaks who plays for Niagara and scores 38 points a game. Or consider GW’s Bob Tallent, who averaged 28.9 points during the 1968-69 season. The team was just 14-11, and you don’t see anyone raising Tallent’s jersey to the rafters.

But since I get paid to make outrageous opinions, let me say this: If GW does win in Brown’s time (which means SirValiant’s gonna have to figure out how to make his team as good as he is), then the greatest player GW has ever known walks among us. At the rate he’s going (and there’s no doubt in my mind he will go that rate), SirValiant will own every career record GW has, and most likely every other one, too. (Is there anyone who doesn’t think Val can break Joe Holup’s record of 49 points in a game? Or how about Mike Brown’s record of 40 at the Smith Center? Puh-leaze.)

What amazes me is how quickly these players have made me forget last year’s guys (note use of the word players, not team). Shawnta Rogers and Yegor Mescheriakov were two of the greatest players in school history. Shawnta stood alone at the top with only Joe Holup and Mike Brown. But did these guys ever average 26.8 points per game? How about after their first two weeks as a Colonial? Now, I know what you’re saying: But, naked guy, Brown shoots so poorly. This is true. And not to belabor the point that everyone makes, but he’s getting a lot of shots. (Of course, I just see that as Penders’ way of making him better. This, by the way, is what rebuilding looks like). He gets into too much foul trouble, too (but he also shoots free throws like a veteran). He also has a lot of turnovers. (Penders says he dribbles too high.) In fact, he has flaws. But I can’t stress one thing enough. I expect him to score 25 points every game – and he’s played FIVE games!

But about the team. Obviously, you can’t give up 93 or 95 points and expect to win. Mediocre teams are shooting like the Harlem Globetrotters against GW, and I can’t totally explain the problem. (I’d love to share some insight on the Ohio game, but I can do little of that since WRGW has yet to master the ability to broadcast a basketball game from start to finish, despite being paid a gajillion dollars to do so.)

But I was there when GW played Houston, and the Colonials were simply beat at what’s supposed to be their game. Guys on offense were running past the Colonials like they were electric football players. Quite simply, this just isn’t a Tom Penders-team yet. Even the Penders-recruited players are suffering on defense. And that stuff about the Runnin’ Colonials just isn’t appropriate. Has anyone else noticed that GW isn’t pressing? Right now, Forty Minutes of Hell is just 40 minutes of Val.

And the schedule, as advertised, isn’t easy. Indiana State (a huge win for GW, in terms of just getting a win and proving that the team can beat good teams) tore through Montana State and TCU after losing to GW in Alaska. Oklahoma, a team that should be in the top 25, is just on a different level – but GW played probably one of its best halves so far those first 20 minutes against OU. Then there’s Houston, which shows why GW is gonna break some fans’ hearts this season. GW is young and talented, and optimists hoped that they would be good enough to figure out winning by now. But that hasn’t happened with any consistency yet, and so GW lost to Clyde Drexler’s boys, which they really shouldn’t have.

(While I’m on Alaska, let me add some personal comments. Everyone I know was real excited for me that I was going to Alaska. And granted, I had a good time, especially since I wasn’t able to use what would have been the greatest headline ever – Point Barrow, Alaska. I sat with and talked to Clyde Drexler and Billy Tubbs, and I met a lot of great people. But this was winter in the 49th state, and I was probably outside for a combined five minutes – just the distance between cars and doors. Fairbanks is probably not the place I will be taking Mrs. David Holt for our honeymoon. Also of note, this was a small town. It’s charming in its own way and with striking similarities to any small town in America that’s covered in snow and has a temperature of minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit. This small town had its eccentricities – the hot tub 20 feet away from the basket, the man dressed as Santa Claus in the upper deck, the preponderance of people in Sasquatch costumes – but it was charming nonetheless. Fairbanks had the ability to make you forget that you were on the Moon. You’re like, Wow, look what man has managed to build here.)

Then came the South Florida game Saturday. USF is in everyone’s preseason top 30 (ESPN Magazine, which had the last preview to hit the stands, actually put GW at No. 60, while USF was at No. 30). The South Florida win was very important. Falling to 1-3, and then to 1-4, would have been just short of disastrous. Instead, the Colonials know they can play with pretty good teams – even teams that play like street gangs.

(You should have seen the USF media after the game. There was what looked like a student writer, who said at halftime he could feel that USF was about to blow the game open. Afterwards, he looked like the season was already over.)

Then there’s Ohio (a team that won at Princeton a few days ago). The severity of the loss was a bit alarming, but the loss itself wasn’t. I had penciled it in as a loss just because it was the first road game and Ohio’s a decent team. What gets my dander up are people that think GW should be embarrassed that it considers these kind of games difficult. There’s a reason – a huge reason – why Duke, et al., do not play on the road at schools that are only pretty good. BECAUSE THEY WOULD LOSE. I’m not saying GW is demonstrating guts by playing these games. Penders would rather not, and GW won’t be anymore, but a good program like GW playing at a decent program like Ohio is a recipe for a loss. See Penders after the South Florida game:

I’m trying to tell these guys, no one’s going to be afraid of us. We’re rebuilding, but it’s still GW. When we saw Houston celebrating like they had
won the national championship, our team saw that no one’s going to take us lightly.

Along those lines, you don’t think Kentucky regrets scheduling a game in Cincinnati against Dayton? (Don’t get me started on Dayton. My God, is the world falling apart?! Dayton kicks Ash, man!)

But onto this weekend. The Colonials are big underdogs. (The women, too. A win over No. 7 Rutgers would be HUGE in light of what the team’s done thus far.)

In terms of GW’s BB&T chances, they’re saying the same kinds of things about Seton Hall that they were saying about DePaul last year when they drubbed GW. And what can you say about Illinois and Maryland? Going 0-2 this weekend would be nothing to cry about, but the 2-5 result would be. Hopefully, these players have enough pride to play like we know they’re capable. I know they could blow out Seton Hall and they could even knock off Maryland or Illinois, but the right team has to show up. And that would be the team that has Mike King (who had probably his best game ever Saturday night), Chris Monroe (at times great), Jason Smith (sometimes breathtaking on the boards), Bernard Barrow (getting more assists every night), Antxon Iturbe (solid as usual), Francisco de Miranda (playing his best as a starter), Mark Lund (suddenly Mr. Dependable off the bench) and all the rest playing their best basketball (that’s the stuff in the parentheses) at the same time. It’s called playing as a team. It’s called getting an assist from someone besides Barrow. It’s called passing instead of taking shots that there’s no chance of making. And hey, it could happen this season. It could even happen this weekend if the team has learned anything these first five games.

And heck, when the fourth-leading scorer in the United States of America has NBA tattooed on his arm and George Washington written on his uniform, anything’s possible, right?

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