The men’s basketball team has gone through a coaching change, NCAA violations and the loss of key players to the NBA draft and the D.C. penal system over the past three years, but through it all there has been one constant – Chris Monroe.
The senior guard out of Hyattsville, Md., has been a starter since his freshman year and is now on pace to break the school’s all-time scoring record in his final year. But while Monroe has stayed consistent on the court, he has changed remarkably from where he started off the court.
Just talking to Monroe is proof. Once quiet and quick with answers, he’ll now talk at length about most subjects. And he is trying to get out around campus more, he said.
“I haven’t really lived the college life,” Monroe said. “I’m from this area, so most of the time I just went to the gym, went to classes and went home. I had a lot of family things to deal with, and I didn’t really get to hang out with the students from GW like I wanted to.”
But over the past year, at the urging of head coach Karl Hobbs, Monroe has become less isolated from his teammates and more visible around GW.
“Recently, I’ve just made a lot more friends, been to a lot more functions and have been introducing myself to people,” he said.
While Monroe is in charge of his changing social life, the changes that went on around him in his basketball life were primarily out of his control. After his sophomore season, four of his teammates were exposed in a phone card scandal and starting center Attila Cosby was charged with sexual abuse, weapons violations and theft, which head coach Tom Penders failed to tell Athletic Director Jack Kvancz. At the end of the 2000-01 season, Penders resigned and Monroe’s classmate and co-star Val Brown left college to pursue his NBA dreams.
Losing the coach that recruited him was tough, Monroe said, as he and Penders formed a close bond during the two years they were together.
“It’s not the same when you don’t have that same coach you started with,” Monroe said. “Like during games, the Penders’ coaching staff’s mothers and wives would sit with my mother and my family.”
It’s not that Monroe and his new coach, Hobbs, don’t get along, Monroe said, it’s just a different relationship, a fact Hobbs also acknowledged.
“The ideal situation is to play for the guy that comes into your living room and looks you in the eye,” Hobbs said. “Chris went from a low key, laid back (coaching) style to some crazy guy screaming and yelling at him every day. That’s quite an adjustment, I would think.”
Monroe said that it took a year to understand what Hobbs expected of him, and that their relationship has improved.
“I can tell coach Hobbs is a good guy, but we really don’t interact like that, it’s mainly basketball,” he said. “He has cookouts at his house and stuff like that, and his family is very present at the games, so all that’s good.”
The main thing Hobbs said he asked of Monroe was to give more of himself to his teammates. Monroe is a quiet player who likes to lead by example. Hobbs said he did not want to change that, but he wanted Monroe to include teammates in things like lifting weights, which he usually did alone.
Monroe said he tries to be more available to the younger players for advice now.
“(As a freshman), I just came in and did my thing and learned stuff out on the court,” he said. “Now, these guys are coming to me for advice, so it’s more of a teaching role and a listening role for me.”
Monroe proved exactly how much he learned last year, when GW needed him most, as the team was comprised of mostly walk-ons and freshmen. Monroe was the only go-to guy, so he had to do a little bit of everything. And he did.
As a junior, Monroe led the team in scoring with 21.1 points per game, good for 22nd in the nation, and also finished second on the team in rebounds (172) and steals (32). But having to lead a young team was nothing new for Monroe.
“We’ve been one of the younger teams in the conference all four years I’ve been here,” he said, shaking his head.
This year, Monroe will lead a team that is just as young but considerably more talented than it was last year. While Monroe is expected to put up big numbers, he said he has no statistical goals this year because, in addition to his solid play, there has been one other constant during his three years at GW – no winning seasons.
His freshman year, Monroe averaged more than 16 points and nearly seven rebounds per game, only to see GW finish 15-15. So Monroe stepped up his play the following year with nearly 19 points per game, but the team still went 14-18.
After all the changes, the team stumbled to 12-16 last season after a 10-game losing streak. In three years, Monroe has gone no further than the A-10 Tournament semifinals – no winning seasons, no conference championships. Not a single NCAA tournament or National Invitational Tournament game.
“To have that kind of career,and not play in the NCAA Tournament,” Hobbs said. “That’s tough to swallow.”
No one needs to tell this to Monroe, who said his main focus in his final season is simply for GW to win.
“My personal goal is to put a banner up here before I leave,” Monroe said, glancing up at the Smith Center rafters. That NCAA banner is one thing, maybe the only thing, that could make all the changes worthwhile.