Preview: Colonials forced to draw from fountain of youth

At the far end of the court, Terrance Ealey, a senior forward, is shooting short-range jumpers and kissing light lay-ups off the glass. At the other end, T.J. Thompson, a freshman point guard praised for quick moves and tough defense, is dribbling, squaring up, dribbling, and squaring up again. Players are beginning to sprinkle in from the locker rooms 30 minutes before practice. Albert Roma is stretching. Greg Collucci connects on a series of free throws.

Suddenly, a 240-pound 6-foot-6 power forward busts through a back door and charges towards center court cradling a basketball like he was running the option. Freshman Tamal Forchion, last week named pre-season All-Rookie, shatters the placid pre-practice mood as he high steps across center court.

“I grew an inch,” he says, grinning, “I grew an inch.”

If it had been an official measuring before practice, Forchion would be listed at 6-foot-7, and the Colonials, a relatively small team compared to last year, would be heading into the 2001-02 season an inch taller, a little closer to the rim. Instead, this undetectable change in Forchion’s height contrasts the very noticeable physical appearance of the 2001-02 Colonials. They look, act and play nothing like last year’s team, which went 14-18 and upset Xavier to reach the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

This year’s team, headed by new coach Karl Hobbs, lost six players to either graduation, professional basketball or the D.C. penal system. Hobbs replaced them with four freshmen, four walk-ons and a slew of versatile guards.

Hobbs, who was hired in May to both coach and restore integrity to the program, has been pushing one message: his team will leave nothing on the court and they will give 110 percent. Underlying that message is another: don’t expect the Colonials, with just one returning starter, to match last season’s on- or off-court records.

GW is the pre-season pick to place fifth in the Atlantic 10 West, and Chris Monroe, a junior who led the team in scoring last year, and Jaason Smith, a leaping senior forward, are two reasons why.

“I honestly believe that if we are going to achieve this year, (Monroe) is going to have to overachieve,” Hobbs said, referring to his team’s inevitable reliance on its youth. “We can get into a situation where, honest to God it’s true, Chris can play the game and he can be our one, our two, our three and our four. That can happen to us this year.”

Last season, Monroe shot a team-high 80 percent from the free-throw line while averaging about 19 points a game. He covered for SirValiant Brown, whose scoring average dropped by about seven points a game. Monroe, a 6-foot-3 215-pound guard from Hyattsville, Md., will be asked to draw fouls, draw double teams, create plays and do just about everything else, including guarding the University of Kentucky’s Keith Bogans if GW advances passed Marshall University in the NABC Classic this week.

“I know teams will come at me, and coaches will be like ‘stop him,'” Monroe said. “That will just open it up for (Smith) and them, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to force any action when I can let J get the 25, and I can get the 14 and 8 and 9. As long as we’re winning.”

Hobbs has given even more praise to Smith, the 6-foot-8 187-pound Boston native who last year came off the bench and sparked GW with 14 points and seven rebounds in the team’s 71-63 loss to No. 13 Maryland at the BB&T Classic.

Smith and Monroe, along with senior Roma, represent the team’s only upperclassmen. GW is the youngest, most inexperienced team in the A-10 West with seven freshmen and four sophomores. What’s more, there is a thin level of talent beyond GW’s 10 scholarship players. Hobbs added four walk-ons – Lewie Helton, Joshua Chapman, Jason Richards and Ealey – to bolster the roster with bodies.

GW will be without two scholarship players in the opening road trip in Kentucky: point guard Darnell Miller faces a three-game suspension for NCAA violations and Marquin Chandler serves an 11-game suspension stemming from illegal phone call made last season.

Without these players, Hobbs is forced to draw from his pool of youth. Like it or not.

Among the freshmen who will be most heavily relied on is Thompson, a point guard from Germantown, Md., who averaged 13 points and 8 assists a game at the Newport School. This year, he has showed both poise and sloppiness in at least one exhibition game.

“I think T.J. is coming along well,” Monroe said of the point guard after he scored 18 points including two three-pointers in GW’s 99-84 win over the University All Starts. But he had three turnovers. “He lets a lot of things get in his head as far as he loses it sometimes when people on the court yell at him. He’ll learn. That’s just freshmen tendencies.” Thompson had a double-double including 10 assists against Team Vaata Saurday evening.

Likely to join Thompson in the starting lineup is Forchion, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game last year at Roman Catholic High in Philadelphia. He and fellow freshman Darrio Scott give the Colonials added size and athleticism inside to balance the guard-heavy team (GW has eight).

These freshmen won’t have to wait very long for their official welcoming to collegiate basketball when GW plays Marshall this week. They will face Tamar Slay, a 6-foot-9 junior guard who averaged 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season, and J.R. VanHoose, a 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds.

The Colonials should receive more output from sophomore Collucci, who scored 21 points including six three-pointers against Team Vaata. Hobbs is so confident in the scorer from Palm Beach Garden, Fla., that he has directed the Smith Center crowds to stand and raise their arms every time Collucci shoots.

Last season, Collucci averaged eight and half minutes a game, despite being a 44 percent three-point scorer. He’ll be used more this year, which makes his defensive shortcomings problematic for the Colonials.

The coaching staff, also new, is not fond of predicting wins or losses this year. Because so much of their success rests with the younger players this season, they are stressing long-term improvement during these times of rebuilding.

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