Mike Hall is a typical GW freshman. He loves D.C., especially the cultural elements. As a pre-med student, he is focused on his career and academic plans. He enjoys visiting the Smithsonian, is inspired by the power of the National Mall and appreciates the diversity of the city.
The similarities may end there. Hall is also a 6-foot-8 standout forward on the men’s basketball team. The dual focus on academics and athletics is something the native of Chicago’s south side has maintained his whole life.
“I came to GW because it had a great mix of academics and athletics,” said Hall, who was also heavily recruited by academic powerhouses such as Princeton University. “I really like the city and the atmosphere and the balance between studying and sports is very nice.”
Head Coach Karl Hobbs said he has seen the drive for balance since he recruited Hall as a prep star.
“Mike is the most goal-oriented kid I’ve ever been around,” said Hobbs, who has been around NBA stars like Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall and Richard Hamilton, among others. “It is my goal for him to be an Academic All-American and there is no reason he can’t do it.”
Hall said he knows about his coach’s goal and accepts it as a personal challenge.
“That’s definitely something the coaches drilled into me before I even stepped foot on campus,” he said. “I struggled a little first semester but I’m working very hard this semester. It’s also a goal I have for myself. When I don’t feel like studying, that’s what I think about – it would make my mother proud.”
Hall is particularly close to his mother, who raised Mike and his older brother in the family’s middle class Chicago home. He is also close with his grandmother, he said.
As a high school star at Alan B. Shepard High School, Hall helped the school become one of the better teams in the South Inter-Athletic Association East conference, the strongest conference in the state. The conference boasted elite players like Eddie Curry, now in the NBA, and numerous other current Division I players.
The lanky and athletic Hall said when deciding on a college to commit to he knew he wanted an inspiring, energetic coach who knew how to teach the game. He knew he wanted the possibility of success. He found what he was looking for in Coach Hobbs and GW.
“I like (Hobbs’) intensity,” Hall said. “He’s always jumping around on the sideline and we feed off that. He is really the first coach I’ve had who knows what he’s doing. He teaches us so much about the game, so many different skills.”
Hall has been quick to put those skills into practice. He is currently second in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding and offensive rebounding and is one of the top free throw shooters in the conference. Hobbs said he is pleased with his young recruit’s success thus far.
“Mike is extremely versatile on the court,” Hobbs said. “He is a good perimeter shooter and ball handler and is an excellent passer and rebounder. To be second in the conference in rebounding as a freshman wing is impressive.”
Guard Chris Monroe, the team’s only senior, also praised Hall’s versatility and work ethic.
“He’s a very hard worker and fills gaps wherever we need it,” Monroe said. “He grabs rebounds, scores and he’s a good defender. He’s a complete player.”
Hall’s physical presence and style of play is often compared to recent GW graduate Jaason Smith, but as Monroe pointed out, the comparison does not quite hold.
“He’s different from any player we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Monroe said. “He’s long and very athletic, but he’s much more of a guard than Jaason was. We’ve never really had a six-foot-eight guard before. Maybe he’s a little like Kwame (Evans), but he was here before my time.”
Hall is reluctant to tout his own individual success and instead focuses on the long-term progress of GW’s freshman-dominated squad.
“We’ve got a good group of freshmen to build a future on,” he said. “The dream is always to win a national title.”
The focus on the team, rather than the individual, characterizes not only Hall but also the whole team. His roommate is fellow freshman Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Hall said the team sometimes forms groups among the classes but said the whole team gets along well and hangs out together.
“If you see us on the street you can’t tell who gets the minutes or who’s a freshman or a senior,” he said. “We all play video games together and are running around the halls just having a good time. We have pretty good rivalries playing NBA Live and Madden on PlayStation 2.”
Aside from the Smith Center, Hall said another popular campus destination for the group is the Hippodrome.
“We bowl a lot and play a lot of pool,” he said. “We’re at the Hippodrome a lot.”
On Thursday nights (if they do not have classes or practice on Friday), Hall said the freshmen, sometimes joined by sophomores T.J. Thompson and Tamal Forchion, can be spotted shredding the dance floor at Platinum. And on Sunday nights (when they have Monday off), students might find the group grooving at VIP’s 18+ night.
“We like to go out to clubs sometimes,” Hall said. “It’s a great way to learn the city and meet new friends.”
Despite the possible distractions of living in a major city, Hall’s main focus at GW is balancing his studies with basketball. Although the team has struggled in conference play, dropping its first five A-10 games, Hall insisted fans have not seen the team’s best.
With Saturday’s win against Duquesne, in which Hall had 11 points and nine rebonds, GW has now won two in a row and is showing improvement.
“I expect that we will soon turn around our struggles, change a few things and get some W’s,” he said. “We can still make it a special year.”