The first ever Colonial Invasion marked the start of the GW basketball season Thursday night at the Smith Center, showing off the men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as GW’s spirit program. The dance team, cheerleaders, pep band and mascots were all on hand for the festivities, which drew 1,100 fans, according to University officials.
The event served as a replacement for the traditional Midnight Madness, which took place on Colonials Weekend over the past decade but was canceled this year. Among the complaints about previous Midnight Madness events was a lack of emphasis on basketball, of which Colonial Invasion had plenty.
“There were a lot more people who were there for the basketball (at Colonial Invasion) than remained after midnight during Midnight Madness,” said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services. He also described the fans Thursday as more “hardcore” than those who came to Midnight Madness, though Thursday’s crowd was noticeably smaller than in past years.
The event began with a tailgate party on the steps of Funger Hall, where WRGW talked about the upcoming seasons for both teams. Then students, faculty and players moved inside for the rally.
Only a few prize giveaways and one outside entertainment act preceded team introductions, as most of the evening focused on the Colonials. Student prizewinners included Shira Bramnick, who won a trip for two to the Bahamas for spring break, Terrance Kane, who won a new recliner, and Devin Williams, who won free books for next semester. A high-flying dunk team called High Impact then wowed the crowd with acrobatic slam dunks.
The women’s team was the first to be introduced in front of the Smith Center crowd and conducted some basic drills and a three-point shooting contest. Last year’s Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Cathy Joens hit 10 consecutive three-pointers.
“It was great, a great way to get the students around us before our season starts,” the fifth-year senior said.
Women’s Head Coach Joe McKeown talked to the fans over the public address system, commenting on new players and the upcoming season. The A-10’s all-time winningest coach said afterward that it will be important for Thursday night’s fan support to continue throughout the year.
“Last year, for the (A-10) Championship game, the student section was full, and it made such a huge difference because it’s like having a sixth man out there,” he said. “We play so well here when our students get behind us.”
McKeown’s squad was followed by the men’s team, which ran several basic fundamental drills and a lay-up line that slowly turned into a dunk contest among most of the players.
Men’s Head Coach Karl Hobbs talked to the crowd and introduced the freshmen, telling fans that rookie J.R. Pinnock’s nickname is “Superman.” Afterward, Pinnock said he just wants to live up to the nickname.
Colonial Invasion also introduced a new entity to the GW basketball world with the formation of a student cheering section called the Colonial Army. The group debuted wearing yellow Colonial Invasion shirts and tri-corner hats.
“We wanted to have a real student section, like the Cameron Crazies of Duke,” Elon Shore, one of the creators of the group, said. “We have gotten support from the spirit department and just about every organization we have talked to. We want to be a part of GW basketball.”
Junior men’s basketball player T.J. Thompson said he liked the new event more than Midnight Madness, but sophomore teammate Pops Mensah-Bonsu said last year’s event was better because it had more tradition.
Either way, Hobbs said he thought Colonial Invasion was a good beginning to the season.
“I was really glad they had this for the fans because it gave them a little sample of both the men’s and women’s teams and of what’s to come,” he said. “The fans can make the difference between winning and losing because when they cheer real hard, they really make the team play harder, and they won’t allow the team to lose games.”
Students at Colonial Invasion said they enjoyed the event but some said it could have drawn more people if there had been better publicized.
“I think the energy was good for the amount of people there were,” sophomore Alex Kim said. “There needs to be more exposure to the students other than posters advertising it. Maybe (include) smaller events leading up to it, and have the basketball players be involved somehow – like a spirit week, or something for all the teams, leading up to Colonial Invasion.”
Last week was in fact “GW Spirit Week” but did not feature any other events involving the Colonials.
-Lauren Kornreich and Andrea Nurko contributed to this report.