This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Daniel Wright.
At 8:21 pm Friday night, when lights began flashing and fog filled the Smith Center, the raucous crowd rose to their feet as the men’s and women’s basketball teams stormed the court to officially usher in the 2011 to 2012 season.
Colonials Invasion, GW’s version of Midnight Madness, celebrated the official beginning of the basketball season, giving the fans a first look at the upcoming year. University President Steven Knapp kicked off the celebrations with a speech in which he declared the Smith Center as a “beacon in the Foggy Bottom community.”
Then the lights dimmed – and amid smoke, strobes and music, members of both teams were introduced to the crowd, running through lighted archways to line up on the court. It was the first glimpse at the 2011 to 2012 Colonials, and the fans cheered loudly as the players ran out.
Speaking to the crowd, women’s basketball head coach Mike Bozeman stressed the importance of the students’ support, highlighting the difficulty of the upcoming season’s schedule. He ran through a list of opponents, eliciting boos from the crowd at each name.
“We are committed to get us back [to the NCAA tournament], but we really need your support,” Bozeman said, adding after the crowd’s booing of opponents, “that’s exactly what we need to help us beat them.”
The crowd also got a first glimpse of new men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan with his team. He, too, eemphasized the role of student participation at games, stressing the importance of the home court advantage.
“It’s really important to get the students excited about the upcoming season,” Lonergan said. “Attendance has been down a little bit and really starts with the students. We need to win them back.”
After the cheer and dance teams pumped up the crowd with a performance to a medley of songs, the Colonials took the court in the debut of the Buff and Blue Game, in which members of the men’s and women’s teams, along with student representatives, competed in three events: a three-point shootout, a “hot shot” contest” and a slam-dunk contest. The Colonials were split into two: a “Buff” team and a “Blue” team, pitting the players against each other.
Sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic and senior forward Tara Booker represented the Buff team in the three-point contest, with Booker outshooting her teammate five to three in the 35 second time period. Senior guard Tony Taylor, a recent A-10 preseason first team pick, and junior forward Megan Nipe drained twelve shots collectively, leading the Blue team to the victory in the first event of the evening.
The Blue team won the second event as well, in which the teams raced to see who could make a lay-up, free throw, three-pointer and half-court shot before the other team – but the main event of the evening was the slam-dunk contest. The panel of ten judges included former GW and NBA players Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall, as well as former Colonial and WNBA player Kimberly Beck, and Chris Monroe, GW’s all-time leading scorer.
The fans got their first look at junior forward Isaiah Armwood during the dunk contest, but the Villanova transfer didn’t hit the mark on any of his dunks, failing to make it to the final round of the contest in his first appearance on the Smith Center’s court. Redshirt senior forward Jabari Edwards got a little help in his dunk, joining forces with junior guard Lasan Kromah to lift a running Danni Jackson off the court, sending the five-foot-three junior guard to the basket, where she swung for a minute after until Edwards helped her down. Afterwards, Jackson echoed her coach’s statements when asked what she was hoping for this season.
“We need all of the fans’ support,” Jackson said. “Whatever the fans bring to the game is what we feed off of. We’re really excited to play.”
Kromah, sidelined all of last year due to injury, stole the show in his first time back on the court, posting a top-scoring 98 of 100 in the first round of the contest. Kromah grabbed the ball out of the hands of redshirt junior forward Brooke Wilson to perform a one-handed windmill dunk that brought the crowd and the judges to their feet.
Capping it off, Kromah dougied off the court to the cheers of the crowd, ensuring that no one would top his performance.
“It felt really good,” Kromah said of his dunk. “I was really anxious to step back on the court after being out for a year. I had to come up with something crazy.”
Senior Omar Faal, who a student representative in the contest, equally impressed, throwing down a 360 degree dunk that again elicited loud cheers from the crowd. But in the final round of the contest, it was once again Kromah who stole the show, posting a round-best 89 on a reverse dunk off the baseline of the basket, effectively sweeping the events for the Blue team.
The judges were impressed by his effort – Mensah-Bonsu said he had challenged Kromah to “do something to get me out of my seat,” but his head coach was a little more critical.
“I told Lasan I could have got a better count then he received tonight,” Lonergan said with a laugh, before conceding, “That first [dunk] was pretty impressive.”
With the official kickoff out of the way, the real preparation for the season begins, and coaches and players alike took the night to stress the hard work they’ll be putting into the upcoming season. Both Lonergan and Bozeman emphasized their desire to put bodies in the seats and a dominant squad on the court, determined to find success this year.
During his speech to the crowd, Bozeman pointed to the NCAA banners in the rafters, telling GW that he intended to bring his program back to those heights.
“We understand it’s a process,” Bozeman said. “Every meal gets cooked at some point, and its time for us to come out and give that meal.”