As men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs doled out quotes at a steady pace Friday during the annual preseason media day at the Smith Center, the questions often sounded something like this: “Wow, looking pretty good this year, huh?”
That’s the feeling a lot of people, especially GW students, have about the Colonials this year. From ESPN to other coaches, just about everyone talks about GW as being the class of the Atlantic 10 – if not the best, then among the top two or three teams.
Everyone except, seemingly, Hobbs and the players themselves.
“When I look at the facts, it’s clear to me that I can’t listen to what people are expecting,” Hobbs said. “Our expectations are, we’re not the best, but we’re going to play hard and try to be the best.”
Senior T.J. Thompson: “We’re still chasing people. People are not chasing us.”
Junior Pops Mensah-Bonsu: “We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
To clarify, Hobbs added, “I think Xavier, I think St. Joe’s, I think Dayton, I think Richmond, and I think Rhode Island. Those are the programs we’re chasing and those are the programs we have to try to overcome.”
Wait a second. What? This is supposed to be the year, and now we’re only the sixth best team in the Atlantic 10? Who else do we have to prove ourselves to, Fordham?
Well, no, GW is a lot better than that. But understand that when you’re a coach, other people’s expectations can be a tricky thing. You don’t want anyone doubting whether your team has the potential to win, the way a lot of people did with GW in 2001-02. But you also don’t want people – or more importantly, your own team – thinking that they’re too good to lose. That’s a risk going into a year like this.
So yes, GW still has a lot to prove. This group of players still hasn’t proven they can win on the road at Fairfield, let alone Dayton. They still, in Hobbs’s tenure, have turned the ball over way too often. And most of all, what have they won? They won a game in the A-10 Tournament last season and went on to get blown out by Xavier and, in the National Invitation Tournament, at the University of Virginia.
As Thompson said, “Our goal is always to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and until we do that, we’re always going to feel like we have something to prove.”
That being said, you’d have to be nuts to think GW won’t reach that goal and then some. Bob Chernak, a GW vice president who has been one of the team’s biggest fans since he got here in 1988, told me this is the best GW team he has ever seen, including the one that went to the Sweet 16 in 1993.
And for good reason. There are a handful of guys in GW jerseys that could develop into NBA-caliber talent, and that’s just the starting lineup. Hobbs also has a bench that would make most coaches whose names don’t begin with “Krzyzewsk” jealous.
They’ve been athletic and fun to watch. Now, with no freshmen in the starting lineup for the first time under Hobbs, they’re also less prone to inexperienced mistakes. And thanks in large part to the work of a guy named Mark Bearden, the team’s strength and conditioning guru, they’re a lot less likely to be pushed around than the team that won 18 games (not a terrible mark to have to improve on) a year ago.
If you look at the team’s schedule, it doesn’t look like much of a cakewalk, nor should it. The NIT people were nice enough to give GW a game at Wake Forest to start the season; and in December, merry Christmas, now go beat Michigan State, West Virginia and maybe Maryland for good measure.
Same goes for the A-10. The teams Hobbs talked about are all still good, and all have beaten GW in the past. Which is exactly why it’s important for the Colonials not to listen to all the good things we have to say about them.
But between the rest of us, let there be no doubt: this is a legitimate 20-win, NCAA Tournament team. They’ve done nothing yet, but should do quite a bit soon. So go ahead and enjoy it. Believe the hype, and be glad Hobbs and his players don’t.