The air is turning colder, the lines for hot coffee at the J Street Starbucks are getting longer, and more and more students are breaking out their North Face fleece jackets. At GW, this only means one thing – it’s almost basketball season.
Practices began the week of Oct. 16, but the true kickoff will be held Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Smith Center. The event, dubbed Colonial Invasion, is a rally for students, which includes many activities and giveaways. It has taken the place of Midnight Madness, an event the University discontinued last year due to its lack of basketball focus.
For the first time in recent memory, school spirit seems to be skyrocketing. With high expectations for the men’s basketball team, crowds are expected to be large at the Smith Center. Last year’s Colonial Invasion event drew roughly 1,100 fans and officials are expecting to exceed that crowd Thursday night.
“I think the fans here are different now,” said Josh Hartman, assistant program coordinator of the GW spirit program. “There is more spirit and pride overall around the school. (The students) are all proud they go to GW and having basketball back and two great teams are good.”
This year’s festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. with a barbecue on Kogan Plaza. The preliminary event features performances by the step teams of the multicultural Greek-letter organizations. At 9 p.m., the event will move to the Smith Center, where the invasion begins.
“It’s going to be a great time,” said Sean Rose, head of the Colonial Army, a fan group on campus. “We will be giving away a number of items in contests including a recliner, a 43-inch television and a Vespa scooter.”
Thursday’s event will also include a three-on-three basketball game matching students against members of the basketball coaching staffs, a dance routine by the cheer and dance teams, and an introduction of the men’s women’s teams.
Both men’s coach Karl Hobbs and women’s coach Joe McKeown have 15 minutes each to display their teams in a short series of drills.
“It’s a great way for the students to get to know the teams,” Hartman said.
Nationally, the GW teams have been creating buzz and are considered by many as one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10.
After finishing 18-12 last season, the men’s squad earned a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, where they lost to the University of Virginia in the first round. In post game comments, Virginia coach Pete Gillen said “(GW) is going to be even stronger next year.” Despite the loss leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many fans, it gave students hope about the prospects for this season.
“The way we finished last season was tough,” sophomore Alex Cox said. “I went to a lot of games and it was rough to see us lose to Virginia like that. This season should be awesome, with all the press we are getting. I’m really looking forward to it.”
While the men’s team has been receiving lots of attention, the strongest team in the winter season has historically been the women’s squad. Last winter, the women registered an impressive 22-8 overall record, earning their 11th berth into the NCAA Tournament in the past 15 years.
As an A-10 school, players said spirit is very important to the success of the team. The Smith Center, where the Colonials play their home games, only holds 5,000 fans. Although this is approximately half of the GW student body, schools such as Xavier have facilities that hold nearly 10,000 fans.
According to team members, the capacity does not matter.
“We always love to play at home no matter what,” junior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu said. “This is our home and we love the fans here. I’d say we’ve got some of the best in the league.”
Fan support on campus has improved, Hartman said. The basketball team’s success, students added, has made up for the absence of another high profile sport.
“When I considered GW as a school it was a little strange to think that we had no football team,” said freshman Sissela Tucker, who plans to attend Colonial Invasion tonight. “But we have basketball, which really brings the students together.”