In the Nov. 4 issue of The Hatchet, both the editorial board and an assistant coach urged students to help the men’s basketball squad by showing up to games. Curiously though, neither opinion focused on the one proven way to coax people through the Smith Center doors – win.
When GW stamped three straight tickets to March Madness, fans showed up in droves. In 2006, after Noel Wilmore shot the most famous air ball in GW basketball history, and Carl Elliott was there to tip the ball in just before the buzzer to beat Charlotte, more fans stormed the court than could be found at your typical GW basketball game in the 2009-2010 season.
At the center of all the success was coach Karl Hobbs. Hobbs won the job in 2001 after recruiting big names like future NBA star Richard Hamilton when he was an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut.
Soon after Hobbs arrived, GW had future NBA players of its own in Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall as well as D-League-worthy players in Elliott, J.R. Pinnock and Maureece Rice. As the wins and postseason appearances piled up, students had to arrive at the Smith Center hours before a game to secure a seat. It was fun to be a fan. At one game, 38 students spelled out “The George Washington University Colonials” on their chests across an entire row of seats.
Students cared about basketball because the team won. But for the last three seasons, Hobbs has filled up the loss column. In the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons, GW remarkably failed to qualify for the 12-team A-10 tournament. Last season, GW started the season 11-3, but tanked down the stretch by finishing 5-12, and lost to Virginia Commonwealth University in the first round of the lowly CBI Tournament. Unsurprisingly, students who were in high school during the NCAA tournament years have found no reason to cheer for a team they have never known to win.
The recent stretch of embarrassing results makes one wonder about Hobbs’ skills as a coach. His strategy of recruiting lean, fast players who force turnovers worked during a weak stretch for the A-10, but now the conference is much stronger. In the last three years, Hobbs has been left in the dust by Temple, Xavier and Dayton in terms of both recruiting and coaching. The time has come to develop a real half-court offense and players who can execute it.
With a top-flight coach, GW could find great success this year. The question is whether Hobbs is such a coach. A top six or better finish in the A-10 is within reach and would signal to the conference that GW is back. But if Hobbs fails to improve on his team’s 10th-place finish in the 2009-2010 season, Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz should start searching for a replacement.
-The writer is a third-year GW law student and 2008 alumnus who created “Pops Mensah-Bonsu Day.”
Readers can visit the Forum to comment on this op-ed.