The last thing GW coach Tom Penders needed was a distraction that would divert his team’s attention away from the real reason why the Colonials were playing in a tournament almost 5,000 miles away from Foggy Bottom. GW had an opportunity to gain national respect and exposure against nationally ranked teams at the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic in Hawaii late December.
Penders got what he did not want and it came gift-wrapped in orange and white as the Colonials engaged in a near-brawl with players from the University of Tennessee Dec. 28. Both teams and coaches have different recollections of an incident that took place about 15 minutes after the then-No. 6 Volunteers’ 91-82 victory over GW in the tournament’s opening round.
On-court tension from a game in which three technical fouls and 62 personal fouls were called, and the teams combined to shoot 87 foul shots, spilled over into an altercation heated verbal exchanges that included every player and coach from both teams.
According to Dec. 30 articles in The Washington Post and the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tennessee players Harris Walker, Del Baker and Andy Ikeakor went into the hospitality area – located near the GW locker room – to pick up pizza after the game. As the Colonials left to board their bus, the players passed through the same area where the Tennessee players were eating.
“The other team came down to our locker room after the game,” said Penders, according to The Post. “Most our players were on the bus when all that stuff happened. All they did was defend themselves.”
Tennessee coach Jerry Green told The Post the reason why his players brought chairs and a ladder to the scene was to fend off the Colonials.
“That’s absolutely hilarious,” said Penders, according to The Post. “Our trainer (Chris Hennelly) and Val Brown were surrounded by about six or seven of their players on his way to the bus outside,” Penders said. “And that’s not the least of what happened . If Mr. Green said that, Mr. Green has no idea what happened. He was nowhere near the area.”
According to The Post, one Tennessee player spit in the direction of GW’s Patrick Ngongba. When asked after the St. Joe’s loss to comment on the incident, Ngongba said: “I have no comment other than that they spit toward me.”
“A few of Tennessee’s players showed no class at all,” said Penders, according to The Post.
Several Volunteers encouraged the Colonials to follow them to their hotel to continue the action, according the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Cooler heads prevailed and both teams went their own ways. GW lost to Detroit the following afternoon and defeated Manhattan College to finish seventh out of eight teams. Tennessee defeated the universities of Iowa and Hawaii to win the tournament.