Men’s team counting on frontcourt to play big

Basketball Preview Issue

They are the big men on campus. Literally.

At heights nearing seven foot, it is impossible for GW’s frontcourt to walk around Foggy Bottom without being noticed. Though basketball is at its core a team game, much of any team’s success depends on its ability to control the paint, where rebounds are snatched and easy baskets are scored.

Head men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs, a former point guard himself, emphasizes the importance of guards to a team, but it may not be a coincidence that his team had its best year when his forwards and center – the frontcourt – were carrying the team’s weight.

This year’s group looks to be the best since Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Mike Hall and Omar Williams graduated in 2006.

Senior power forward/center Rob Diggs has been an institution in the blocks for two years and is generally regarded as the team’s best player. Versatile classmate Wynton Witherspoon, who was forced into the role of point-forward last year, will sometimes join Diggs in the post and other times use his explosiveness to exploit defenders from the wing. Junior Damian Hollis, who Hobbs named as one of the team’s most vocal leaders, will take his usual position around the free throw line a la Williams.

The 6-foot-8 Hollis rarely displays emotion on the court, but he is vocal among his teammates. Witherspoon has carved out a niche as the team’s class clown who can provide a laugh when needed. Diggs, on the other hand, prefers just to play. He’s trying to be more vocal in practice this year, but he would ideally lead by example.

Together, the three will shoulder much of the offensive and defensive load for the Colonials, a role they don’t underestimate.

“It’s definitely important for the team,” the 6-foot-7 Witherspoon said. “Yeah, it’s where a lot of our team scoring comes from, but it just sets the tone for the whole thing.”

On the surface, it is crucial that the three come together as a cohesive unit, given GW’s signature up-tempo style of play. But this year’s frontcourt knows its contributions and responsibilities to its team extend far beyond the boundary lines.

After last season’s breakdown in senior leadership, the shoes these three big men are trying to fill are small. But team’s chemistry is the the 300-pound elephant in the room that everyone is – perhaps surprisingly – open to talking about.

“Last year, to a large degree, has shaped their outlook and how they’re approaching this year,” Hobbs said. “It’s the first time that guys like Robert and (senior guard) Noel Wilmore have been part of a losing season, and a large part of it was due to things off the court. And those things affect what happens on the court.”

This year, the three upperclassmen seem to be on the same page. Maybe they did some icebreakers, perhaps a trust fall or two. Or maybe they are just sick and tired of performing poorly because of their lack of cohesion on and off the court.

In any case, this frontcourt – and the team – appears to get it. Diggs, 6-foot-9, said the team hangs out together much more than it did last year because “we’re all pretty much the same kind of guy.” Trips to the movies or T.G.I. Friday’s have become a common occurrence and a welcome change. Unlike last year’s team, Witherspoon said, players share a common goal: winning.

While they may not lead the team to a top-10 ranking like the class of 2006, perhaps flying under the radar will benefit them. After all, it’s not often they get to go unnoticed.

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