Inside the huddle

After four home games last week, GW basketball fans know what it’s like to cheer on the Colonials in the stands at the Smith Center. But what is it like for the athletes and coaches on the court and on the bench?

Earlier this week, Professor Charles Toftoy of GW’s School of Business and Public Management got the unique opportunity to sit on the bench as the Colonial women pounded Rhode Island 90-38 and experienced what it was like on the other side of the Smith Center.

Toftoy, dubbed by head coach Joe McKeown as the women’s team’s “number one fan,” was sitting at the women’s practice last week when McKeown asked him to be an “honorary assistant coach” for the upcoming Rhode Island game, a request Toftoy called an “honor” and a “nice surprise.”

Toftoy first became involved in GW basketball in 1992 when he and his wife started to frequent women?s games. They were disappointed in the fact that attendance at women?s games was lacking and decided to try and promote attendance. Since then he has become intimately aquainted with the coaches, players and their parents.

While his presence on the bench may have been out of the ordinary, Toftoy was not a stranger to the Colonial women. As director of GW’s Entrepreneurship Program, the professor knows most of the women on the team from teaching them in business classes. In fact, he considers himself a mentor to a few of the Colonials who have done individual research projects with him, such as starters Lindsey Davidson and Cathy Joens. But, as he soon learned, his students were far different on the court than in the classroom.

While most GW students were in bed, Toftoy met McKeown and the Colonials at 11:15 a.m. Sunday and sat down for the team’s pre-game meeting. He began to talk to Davidson, a senior majoring in human resources and small business management, whom he mentors on her individual research project. But Davidson quickly interjected.

“Hey, professor,” Toftoy recalled his student saying. “I gotta keep my mind on the game.”

Once game-time drew closer Toftoy and the team drew in for a huddle and listened to “coach” Toftoy’s pre-game encouragement, “go get ’em.” Toftoy and the team then waited just outside the stand for their entrance cue and ran in to the tune of the GW fight song.

Throughout the game, Toftoy was right in the huddle and listened as McKeown discussed plays and saw him erase the dry marker sketches with the heel of his hand. He said the players were relaxed and smiling, but always goal oriented. Senior Erica Lawrence and junior Ugo Oha were always there with a pumping fist of encouragement.

With his team up 50-15 at the half, “coach” Toftoy got the opportunity to address the players again as they huddled around him in the locker room.

“Our passing is crisp, and we need to play the second half like we played the first half,” he said. “We should play like we don?t know the score, like an NCAA tournament-bound team because we?re going to the NCAA’s.”

Back on the bench, Toftoy observed how much the team had jelled since the beginning of the year.

“I could really feel the heartbeat of all the players on the bench – they were so intently interested in all the five players on the court,” he said. “When somebody scored they were so happy it was almost like they scored themselves.”

At one point, Toftoy recalled, Davidson joined him on the bench after being taken out of the game. As the trainer worked with her he asked, “What happened?”

“I got kicked in the head,” she replied.

“Well, how are you feeling?” he asked.

“Dizzy. But that’s normal, I’m always dizzy.”

Toftoy joined in all the celebration of the second half and as he departed he told McKeown what an honor it was to be on the bench with him and his team. But McKeown made it pretty clear Toftoy’s days with the team are not over.

“With a point spread like this (90-38),” McKeown said, “I’ll have to have you back.”

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