Rebuilding. Inexperienced. New beginning.
Those are the types of phrases that GW men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs is using to describe this year’s team, which features just two players who played every game during last year’s historical season.
With the graduation of Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Mike Hall and Omar Williams, as well as the departure of guard Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock, senior Carl Elliott and junior Maureece Rice are the lone holdovers from a team that had the best record in the nation. Senior Regis Koundjia played half of last season after transferring from Louisiana State University, but spent much of the time getting adjusted to the team. As a result, Elliott and Rice inherit the leadership positions vacated by “Pops and Company.”
“We shifted from being a very tall, athletic, long team to a more guard-oriented team, and I feel that’s the strength of our team obviously with (Elliott) and (Rice),” Hobbs said. “Those are the two most experienced guys on the team, and they’re going to need to really kind of carry us, and hopefully they’re up for the challenge.”
Elliott is known for being the more vocal and extroverted of the two, as exhibited by his running around the court without his jersey on after his shot to beat Charlotte last season. Rice is known for being more reticent, letting his game do the talking. This year, that may have to change.
“We’re going to have to work harder than we did last year because we lost a lot of veteran players, and we don’t have too many veteran players this year besides three or four of us,” Rice said. “The rest is young players, so we’re just going to have to talk more to stay on the same page.”
Two of the young players Rice is referring to are freshmen forward Damian Hollis and guard Travis King.
Hollis, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, is a versatile player at 6-foot-8 and is built in the mold of Williams, although he is less explosive and more well-rounded at this stage of his career than Williams was. The 6-foot-2 King, from New Haven, Conn., impressed both fans and coaches with his passing, shooting and penetration during GW’s preseason game against Division II Augusta State.
“I would say that Travis King is, in time, going to be a terrific college basketball player,” Hobbs said. “I really believe that Damian Hollis, as well, is going to fit in the Mike Hall-Omar Williams mold.”
Hobbs continued,”We like our freshmen. We like the kids that we have; we think they’re going to develop and become good players.”
King can expect to get a lot of playing time early on, Hobbs said, partially due to the injury of sophomore Cheyenne Moore, a transfer from Clemson who sat out last season per the NCAA’s transfer rules. Moore, who has been described as having a similar style as Pinnock, suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia two weeks ago and is out indefinitely, although signs point to a targeted January comeback.
“We’re missing another leader without Cheyenne,” Elliott said. “Coming from the ACC, he has that experience that we’re lacking.”
King will play point in a three-guard offense that Hobbs said he plans to run often. Rice and Elliott, who says he will have to score more this year, will flank King on the wings, giving the team speed and flexibility.
“It’s better when we’re both on the court at the same time because we have a lot of experience,” Rice said. “I’ve been playing with Carl for three years, so we pretty much know each other’s games.”
In the frontcourt, senior Dokun Akingbade, who red-shirted last year, will complement Koundjia. Without the depth of last year’s team, the 6-foot-9 Akingbade will need to stay out of foul trouble and stay on the court to provide the team with an inside presence, as Koundjia is more of a perimeter player.
True to history, Hobbs set his expectations low. For the year to be considered a success, to him, he would like the Colonials to finish in the top four in the Atlantic 10 in defense and rebounding.
“I see every team in the league as our competition,” Hobbs said. “I don’t see any easy games on our schedule whatsoever. But I think this will be the most parity that we’ve had in the league in a quite a long time. I think when you look around this league, we are probably the least experienced team.”
Least experienced does not necessarily mean worst, and the team might be too young to care that expectations for them are low, with preseason polls placing them fourth in the A-10.
“It’s going to start with me and Elliott; this team is going as far as we can lead them,” Rice said. “But we need our teammates to come along and help as much as they can.”