The Freshmen: Less pressure, minutes will benefit rookies

A year ago, four freshmen joined the GW men’s basketball team with tremendous acclaim. And from day one, they were asked to play like it, as head coach Karl Hobbs was forced to rely on his top rookies and few veterans for big-time minutes.

This year, Hobbs and his staff continued their recruiting success. But the four freshmen joining this year’s team will only be asked to add to GW’s depth, not comprise it.

Guards Ricky Lucas, Carl Elliott and J.R. Pinnock and center Jaaron Greene will join two transfer students, point guard Lafonte Johnson and power forward Rock Battistoni as new members of the men’s basketball team. This new group of players makes up an exciting addition for Hobbs.

“Collectively, one of the bright things about them is, physically, unlike last year’s freshmen, they are ready for college basketball,” he said.

Last year’s freshman class had height but not much strength at first. That group, including first-year starters Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall, brought excitement to the team but also showed an expected amount of immaturity.

This year’s freshman class will have more time to develop and will not have the added pressure of always being the team’s focal point.

“I think the freshmen this year are in a much better position than last year’s freshmen,” Hobbs said. “Last year’s freshmen didn’t have anyone to lean on. All five of them were our frontcourt players at the beginning of last year. This year, if J.R. Pinnock is struggling, he has Mike Hall. If Carl (Elliott) is struggling, he has T.J. (Thompson). If Ricky (Lucas) is struggling he has (senior Greg) Collucci.”

Elliott is already learning from Thompson and could join him in the starting lineup. A 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound versatile point guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., Elliott was supposed to join the Colonials last year but did not meet the NCAA’s academic standards. He spent the year at Class A Worcester Academy, a preparatory school in Massachusetts.

“The year at Worcester helped me a lot,” Elliott said. “I played against better players and it helped me develop as a player.”

Elliott led Worcester to the New England Prep School Athletic Association Championship, averaging 17.1 points per game along with 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Elliott, the most experienced of the four freshmen, will help ease the burden on Thompson so the junior can be fresh at the end of games.

Joining Elliott in the backcourt is Ricky Lucas, a shooting guard who was a potent scorer for nearby Herndon High School in Herndon, Va. Lucas, standing 6-foot-4-inches and weighing 201 pounds, will share minutes with Pinnock and Collucci at the two-guard spot, which was left vacant by GW’s all-time leading scorer, Chris Monroe.

Lucas averaged 22 points and nine rebounds in his senior season at Herndon and participated in the Capital Classic Regional All-Star Game at the MCI Center last year. Lucas has the ability to score in big games, as he proved in last year’s district championships, when he scored a season-high 40 points. Lucas was ranked the 63rd best prospect in the country by ESPN.com.

Six-foot-5-inch guard J.R. Pinnock will play both shooting guard and small forward for the Colonials. A slashing shooting guard in high school, Pinnock was ranked the 67th best prospect in the country by RivalsHoops.com. During his junior year of high school, Pinnock scored a school-record 42 points in a single game and hopes to bring the same kind of explosiveness to GW.

“J.R. brings us athleticism and gives us that slasher in the perimeter,” Hobbs said.

Big man Jaaron Greene rounds out the freshman class, but the 6-foot-11-inch, 265-pound center could take more time to develop than his classmates, Hobbs said.

“Jaaron gives us more size inside,” Hobbs said. “And he is going to take some time, but I think he is going to be a great player.”

When Green does play, he will join junior Tamal Forchion and Mensah-Bonsu to bring toughness to the post that was lacking at times last season.

“Coach brought me in to help establish that no one is going to push us around,” Greene said.

Helping Greene in this task will be junior Rock Battistoni, who will come off the bench as another power forward. Battistoni sat out last year after transferring from Division III St. Lawrence University, where he shot 59 percent from the field and was named the Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association Rookie of the Year.

Junior Lafonte Johnson, another transfer, rounds out the new arrivals at GW. The former University of Nevada-Las Vegas player will share minutes with Elliott and Thompson at the point.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.