There are a few names that all hardcore GW men’s basketball fans know: Red, Karl, Shawnta, Yinka, Pops and Herve.
Steve “Herve” Hadley, a 1994 graduate, and fellow GW basketball devotees on the message board GWHoops.com know the players and coaches better than almost anyone else. Hadley started the site in 1996 when he became displeased with the only other site devoted to the Colonials.
Hadley, who uses the username “Herve” on the site, said GWHoops.com has seen activity grow about 15 percent each year since its inception.
With GW being ranked all season, activity on the site has jumped 300 percent this year. The team is currently No. 10 in both The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.
Hadley said frequent posters on GWHoops are cautiously optimistic and rational about the Colonials’ postseason prospects.
“GW basketball fans are a niche community of which I’ve seen little growth over the last 10 years,” Hadley said. “I think that’s what people like, the fact that it’s a diamond in the rough. People hope they don’t get ‘discovered’ but at the same time want more coverage. I think people like to think about it as something of their own, and that’s kind of what draws it to me in some sense.”
Diehard GW fans span a variety of forms, from a recent graduate who used the team as a way of bonding with his peers to a retired professor who has been following the team with his family for half a century. Like many close-knit groups, they grew close through their shared suffering and have learned to savor every success – however small – their beloved Colonials achieve.
2004 graduate Josh Schwarfberg’s short fandom has been a roller coaster ride of sorts, from the firing of former head coach Tom Penders amid scandal in 2001 to the Colonials recent top-10 ranking for the first time since 1956.
One of the few fans who remembers that season is professor emeritus of statistics Arthur Kirsch. Kirsch grew up near Dupont Circle in the 1940s and first started following the team when his brother, a football player at GW, took him to games while he was in junior high school. Kirsch later attended GW himself, as did his three children, two of whom are also devoted fans.
During that period from the early- to mid-50s, which Kirsch describes as GW basketball’s heyday, basketball was not the most popular sport on campus.
“Basketball was important but football was number one,” Kirsch said. “When basketball started winning, it became higher, but we had such lousy places to see the teams (it made it difficult).”
In between these two periods of success, times were tumultuous. Fans look back with a sense of agonized nostalgia at the unremarkable stretch from the late-50s to mid-90s, pointing to 1989’s 1-27 season as the low point.
During that season, 1991 graduate Brian Harris attended every home game and most road games as GW’s radio broadcaster.
“On campus, most people could not care less about the team that year and those of us that did care were in a permanent funk,” Harris, who lives in Costa Rica, said via e-mail. “The coaching staff, however, was vilified on campus as some of what went wrong fell squarely on their shoulders.”
Harris, Kirsch, Hadley, Schwarfberg and other fans stuck with the program, however, and point to the 1990 hiring of Mike Jarvis as the juncture when the program started to turn itself around, with Penders’ term as coach seen as a roadblock.
When Jarvis’ 1993 team made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, Jarvis asked Kirsch to accompany the team to Tucson, Ariz.
“Mike Jarvis is my hero,” Kirsch said. “I love Mike Jarvis, he is a real gentleman. Going with the team to the NCAA tournament for the first time since I was an undergraduate was one of the most exciting times of my life.”
Now, the Colonials are back on top. With the team’s 16-1 record, fans are simultaneously forcing themselves to temper their excitement and inherent suspicion.
While a typical season would be determined a success if the team made the NCAA tournament, fans are not going to be satisfied with a one-and-out this year. With the team playing so well and garnering so much attention, most diehards agree that a Sweet 16 berth will be needed to satisfy them.
That said, Harris is enjoying the season for what it is while keeping one eye on what could happen down the road.
“I am enjoying this,;who wouldn’t?,” Harris said. “But it is early February and I think this team can do much more than get ranked No. 10 one week in midseason. There is still a long way to go in the season, plenty of time for setbacks and attaining even more than what has already been accomplished.”
No matter how much success this year’s team achieves, whether or not the program can keep it up is the question on many people’s minds. Programs such as Maryland and Georgetown, which have had the same coach or family of coaches for decades, have been able to maintain a level of long-term success GW has not yet been able to accomplish.
Perhaps the thing that will most affect GW in the future will be fan-favorite head coach Karl Hobbs’ commitment to the school. The consensus among the GW faithful is that Hobbs is only at GW temporarily and will inevitably move on to bigger things within the next five years.
No matter what happens, Scharfberg hopes current students appreciate how good they have it.
“Go to all the games and enjoy them because last year was the first year they made the tournament in six years,” he said. “Don’t take it for granted, just go to the games and have fun.”