The Colonials season had just ended with a loss to Massachusetts in Philadelphia’s First Union Spectrum last week, the press conferences were over and the GW locker room was as empty as the team’s Atlantic 10 Tournament hopes.
That was the point at which first-year head coach Karl Hobbs sat down in an almost empty locker room with reporters to discuss a season he was proud of and a group of players he has grown fond of.
“Going into the season, if you told me we were going to win 12 games, I would’ve went like this,” he said nodding with a grin wider than the NCAA championship ring on his finger, “.OK, I’ll take that.”
The coach, who took the helm in May, led a depleted team of only eight scholarship players, including two who were ineligible at the season’s start because of infractions. Hobbs was without last year’s second-leading scorer SirValiant Brown, who mistimed an NBA leap after his sophomore season.
Chris Monroe, who was recently named second-team all conference, was the lone returning starter and one player who had averaged double-digit points or minutes. He filled Brown’s role this season with a team-leading 21 points a game.
“When you talk about the limitations of what we had, then you know what?” Hobbs said. “Those 12 wins start to sound pretty good to me.”
A crippling mid-season 10-game losing streak may be what defines Hobbs’ first season on the court, as it ended hopes stemming from the team’s surprise 10-5 start. But off the court Hobbs said what has defined his team is GW basketball’s return to respectability.
“The most important thing that we’ve done has been making people be able to say, ‘I’m proud of the George Washington University basketball team,” he said. “Because (players) are going to class, there were no incidents on the court and, when they travel, they look like a basketball team traveling.”
This is a marked departure from last year, which saw four players commit phone fraud and another, Attila Cosby, sent to jail for sexual assault.
At a press conference after the game, senior Jaason Smith credited his coach for instilling character in the team.
“Coach has been preaching toughness all year,” he said. “Not just in this tournament, but in every game.”
Hobbs, whose team went 12-18, said his players responded well.
“The one thing you can’t measure is the heart of a team when you take over a program. Had I known the kids had that type of heart, I wouldn’t have been surprised that we won this many games,” he said.
The coach implied this year was a learning experience, saying he gained a better understanding of coaching and a better feel for his team as the year progressed.
Monroe said Hobbs was not the only one who had to adjust.
“At first, we didn’t understand a lot of the things he did,” Monroe told reporters. “Now we understand that when he yells at us, it’s all love. He wants us to share the same passion for the game, and if you don’t have passion for the game, you need to get it to play on this team.”
Monroe added, “As the season grew, we grew onto him.”
Monroe said the future is bright for GW basketball.
“The future is good,” he said. “All we need to do is teach the freshmen and let them know to come in with passion, because this program is all about passion.”
At the press conference, Hobbs’ eyes widened at Monroe’s uncharacteristic public testimony. Monroe is known as a player who leads with action, not words.
“For Chris Monroe to sit at a press conference to talk about passion for the game, wow he’s come a long way,” Hobbs said later in the locker room.
In the locker room, Hobbs shared his disbelief with a shout to his assistant coaches: “Hey guys, Chris Monroe: Passion for the game,” he said, repeating it as if to assure them he wasn’t kidding.
GW’s recruiting class, which has three players 6-foot-9 or taller, s considered by most one of the top 25 in the nation. Hobbs urged fans to be optimistic but patient with a team that will depend on the youth.
“With that recruiting class, it’s really going to take until their third year, but by then we should be pretty good,” he said, biting his lip with a smile. Hobbs traveled to California after the A-10 Tournament on another recruit trip.
Hobbs said a painful loss to UMass and a 10-game losing streak are fresh on his mind. So how long before the new coach starts preparing for next year? Hobbs laughs at the question with a shrug, then pauses.
“Wait, what’s tomorrow, Thursday?” he said.