Will Dempster: Things have changed for fans and team

There was mayhem, utter mayhem.

After junior Carl Elliott made an improbable putback to punctuate a perfect 16-0 record in Atlantic 10 play, nearly 2,000 students rushed the court to celebrate with their team. For many players and fans, however, both the team’s unprecedented success and incredible fan support was a fantasy four years ago.

When Omar Williams, Mike Hall, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Alex Kireev arrived in Foggy Bottom as freshmen, things were bad. Really bad. The Colonials stumbled en route to a miserable 12-18 record in 2002-2003. Students could arrive halfway through the game and still be treated to a prime seat behind the GW bench.

Things have changed.

Before Saturday’s contest against Charlotte, fans began lining up as early as 1 a.m. to be among the first students to gain admission to the Smith Center. Hundreds of students who wanted to attend the game could not do so because there were no extra seats. Tickets for the game were going for close to $400 dollars on craigslist.org.

“It was just a great feeling to see your student body be proud of you and be able to share in their experience,” Hall said. “They cheer for us so much and dedicate so much of their time to cheer us on and give us motivation that it was just fun to be a part of that.”

Oh yeah, the team’s a little better too.

After losing in Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 30, the Colonials rattled off 18 consecutive wins, giving them the country’s best record at the end of the regular season.

Some players still can’t believe what’s transpired over the last four years.

“I mean, eventually we were hoping we would be here. We knew we would if we kept working and believing in Coach Hobbs’ system,” Williams said. “We still couldn’t have drew it up like this; it’s crazy.”

During the postgame pandemonium, Mensah-Bonsu correctly gave credit to the coaching staff for GW’s historic season.

And indeed, who would have thought that such an unheralded recruiting class would produce two NBA prospects and provide the team with three four-year frontcourt starters. With his key eye for talent, head coach Karl Hobbs stocked the team with many interchangeable parts he’s been able to use to navigate injuries and suspensions en route to a 26-1 record this year. And while Hobbs deserves criticism on a number of points – including his penchant to draw technical fouls at critical moments of games – it is clear that his presence on the bench is a big reason why the Colonials are one of the top teams in the country.

Although the regular season has concluded, there is still much basketball to be played. The Colonials are set to attempt to defend their A-10 Tournament championship in Cincinnati starting on Thursday. After that comes the NCAA tournament. And unlike last year, a mere trip to the tournament will not be enough to satiate constantly swelling doubts and expectations.

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