Ross Romano: Stories of the year, with Rice on top

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When most people look at GW sports, they tend to ignore anything that happens outside of men’s basketball. That is likely only magnified this year, as the squad had one of the worst seasons in program history. But the team’s troubles on and off the hardwood should not be the focus in a year when other things were also noteworthy. Here, in descending order, I present the list of what I think are the top three stories in GW sports for this past year.

Placing third on the list is the women’s basketball team. It is nothing new for the squad to have a great season, as the program has a record of 148-43 over the past six seasons. What makes this season special, though, is not the 27 wins or the second-straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s not even the outstanding group of seniors, led by WNBA draftee Kim Beck, and their 101 career wins. What makes this season so special is that the women finally got the attention they deserved for their consistent greatness.

From coach Joe McKeown’s 500th career win to Sarah Jo Lawrence’s buzzer-beater against California in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the season was full of outstanding moments. The women have consistently been the better team here at Foggy Bottom, and this year they finally got the credit on campus for their accomplishments and received some of their long-deserved spotlight.

Coming in second is the $10 million donation by the Smith and Kogod families to Smith Center. With the structure of the deal being for the University to raise and match the gift with $15 million of its own, this will allow a solid $25 million to change the face of GW sports and the overall culture of athletics at GW.

Not only will fans benefit, but athletes will certainly profit from the improved arena. The academic centers should help all GW athletes to keep up with their coursework despite a busy playing schedule and the new state-of-the-art locker and training rooms will give our athletes the edge they need to have a leg up on their competition. Not just the basketball teams will benefit, as these changes will be put in place for all GW athletes and establish the school as a major player both in athletic competition and in recruiting battles with rival schools.

The number one story is the Senior Day that never was. On March 8, the basketball team honored Dominic Green and Keri Gonsalves, two walk-ons who started a combined one game in their careers as Colonials but conspicuously absent was Maureece Rice, last season’s leading scorer and the player expected by most to be the Colonials’ best this season.

The real story here is not Rice’s dismissal from the team late in the season for breaking team rules. Rather, it is the fact that a player who did so much good for GW during his first three years will likely be remembered for his fourth season, a lackluster one that was enhanced by his mercurial performances and the secrecy that surrounded his departure.

Coming into the season, I’ll be the first to admit that I expected Rice to average 20 points a game and be the go-to guy in all situations for the Colonials. I was way off on that and in that regard the season was a disappointment. However, that doesn’t negate the great seasons he had in the past and the impact he had on GW’s three straight NCAA tournament teams. The memories I have of Rice hitting the shot to beat Xavier after a tremendous comeback in 2006 and of the game-tying shot to send the Charlotte game into overtime later that season will always remain. I will always remember Rice as the guy who led GW to an improbable Atlantic 10 Championship in 2007 while being named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament.

These are the three stories that I encourage everyone to remember from this past year, and the three that should have the most impact on the course of events in GW athletics moving forward into the year 2009.

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