Jake Sherman: Rebuilding, young but still winning

. – Overachieving. NIT team. Terms that Karl

Hobbs, GW’s head coach, has coined during his press conferences that became GW basketball lore.

In eight relatively relaxed minutes after GW beat Rhode Island 74-68 at Ryan Center, Hobbs used the word “young” six times. He called the Rams “terrific” twice and its sharp shooting guard Jimmy Baron the same adjective once. Senior Carl Elliott and junior Maureece Rice, both of whom seem to have righted their free-throw shooting slumps here Saturday, are “terrific” from the foul line.

The coach uses superlatives, or rather “Hobbisms” as they are called by some, to describe a team he has characterized as “young” and “rebuilding” countless times this season. The team, which is on a five-game winning streak and in first place in the Atlantic 10, has beaten the teams in second and third place and sits in the top four in more than half of the league’s team statistic categories.

During its current five-game winning streak, GW has been taken down to the wire but ultimately prevailed against some of the conference’s toughest competition. A team rife with youth, picked to finish fifth in the preseason media poll, is looking like a serious threat in this conference.

But there is a method to this madness that seems to be successful in this ultra fast-paced system. Hobbs and other members of the team assign the younger players “older brothers” to expedite a learning process that could take upwards of a season. Last season, Hobbs reminisced after Saturday’s game, Rob Diggs was the little brother of Mike Hall and Omar Williams. This year, freshman Travis King is the little brother of Elliott and Rice.

“I most certainly believe that the veteran guys that left this program, I think they passed down some pretty good lessons to these young guys,” Hobbs said.

With King, who is averaging 5.7 points in nearly 22 minutes per game this year, the ability to make a difference is essential. Without a high-scoring swingman such as Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock or a strong power forward like Mike Hall, the burden of the team’ scoring falls on Rice and Elliott. King’s ability to handle the ball and control the offense sets Rice and Elliott free, with more ability to score.

“We threw him in a tough situation,” Hobbs said. “I think at one time he was the only freshman on the floor.”

The ability to whittle away at second-half leads, as GW did to Rhode Island’s nine-point advantage Saturday, is a skill not learned in practice but acquired in game situations. Throughout the four years Elliott has been playing at GW, he has been involved with scores of miracle shots, most notably against Charlotte last year and at Dayton two years ago. Rice and Elliott are the only two players remaining at GW that played in both of those games, where last-second shots by Elliott ended both contests.

In this conference, where the worst teams frequently beat the best, the Colonials will need the leadership of the old and the newly acquired experience of the young to extend its streak to its next home game on Feb. 10.

On Wednesday, the Colonials will take on Dayton in Ohio. In its history, GW is 4-6 at UD Arena. The 13,000-seat venue is often sold out and is considered one of the toughest places to play in the A-10.

But if King is under Elliott’s wing, that could bode well with the clock winding down.

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