Rising to the occasion

Basketball games can come down to the last shot – the seconds ticking away, the score tied, the crowd screaming and just one chance, one look, one shot left to push a team to victory.

Last season, the explosive Colonial guard Tony Taylor graduated. And with the turn of a tassel, GW lost its most obvious leader on the court – the player who ran its offense, who was often the most potent scorer for the Buff and Blue and who everyone else on the team knew to turn to for that all-important last shot.

So as the Colonials begin their season this year, it is apparent that the team needs an energetic leader to take control on the court. And it’s going to come down to the upperclassmen to step up, senior forward Isaiah Armwood said.

“No matter what team you are on, the seniors and the juniors are going to step up into that role just because the younger guys aren’t going to really know what to do,” Armwood said.

Armwood – who, along with sophomore forward John Kopriva, serves as a co-captain this year – transferred to GW last year from Villanova and has already provided a spark of energy on the court. During the Colonials’ trip to Italy this summer, Armwood averaged 10.4 points per game, and he exploded in the team’s exhibition debut, with 16 boards, seven points, two blocks and three steals.

Head coach Mike Lonergan is counting on Armwood to continue providing vital energy to a squad that returns seven players, including three starters, as well as six newcomers. But he also emphasized the importance of the senior class rising to the occasion as a whole.

“I always tell the seniors, ‘It’s your team, and I expect you to be leaders as well,’ ” Lonergan said.

The seniors agreed they all needed to step up their leadership role on the court, but Armwood stood out as a respected player because of his on-court communication.

“He’s a vocal voice on the court,” senior guard Bryan Bynes said. That expressiveness was on clear display in GW’s first few contests, as Armwood patrolled the baseline while barking directions to his fellow Colonials.

But Armwood expects his fellow seniors to support him by making their own contributions. Everyone has plays crafted around their strengths, Armwood said, and because they lack a consistent lights-out shooter, it’s up to the team to support whomever happens to be shining on a certain night.

“We all have plays set up for ourself – me, [senior forward] Dwayne [Smith] and [senior guard] Lasan [Kromah]. I mean, it all depends on who’s hot,” Armwood said. “Whoever Coach Lonergan believes is doing good at the time, that’s who he’s going to go to until it stops.”

And though Lonergan’s crafted plays for each of his seniors, he also expects them to increase their level of play from last season. It was a disappointing campaign across the board, the coach acknowledges, and it’s time for the upperclassmen to shake it off and prove their skills.

“If we don’t want to be 10 and 21 again this year, they’re going to be just as important or more important,” Lonergan said. “We’ve got to get a lot more out of those guys. They are definitely capable, and they’ve got to get used to winning.”

Kromah, a senior and the leading returning scorer, averaged 11.1 points per game last year. And though he said he feels pressure to be more of a leader and to step into the shoes of the team’s go-to shooter, Kromah also emphasized that the seniors working together as a solid unit would be integral to GW’s success.

Aiding the formation of the unit, Kromah added, are the close relationships between the upperclassmen.

“I feel real comfortable with these guys here. They’re here supporting me, and we’re always supporting each other, going through hard times or whatever, so I’ll be okay,” Kromah said.

As they seek to come together as a true unit of leaders, each senior Colonial sees himself as filling a slightly different role.

Smith, who averaged 5.5 points last year, envisions himself as a sort of older brother to the younger players on the team. Learning to transition to the demands and style of collegiate coaches can be difficult, and Smith wants to help the learning curve be as smooth as possible.

“Everybody has led at different areas, but me personally, I’ve tried to be the big brother of the team and try to help the freshmen deal with Lonergan,” Smith said. “He can be hard on them at times. I’m trying to make sure they’re getting used to playing at a Division I level.”

The seniors said they hope that, by trying to share the leadership role among one another, they’ll be able to balance their strengths and weaknesses. For example, they said they hope senior forward David Pellom will join Armwood as a vocal leader and spark energy on the court once he rehabilitates after wrist surgery.

The unique set-up could prove positive for the Colonials, Kromah said, especially given how close the roster is already.

“I think it’s good. You know, we’re a step ahead of having practices in and we already know each other’s game, so I think it’s going to be key in playing different competition,” Kromah said. “I think we’re going to gel real well together.”

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