After nearly two years on campus, men’s basketball has finally gone home.
Two years ago, the team was in D.C. for summer training and then took a trip to Italy. Last year, the players were together practicing and taking classes during both summer sessions.
But now, after the Colonials’ first NCAA tournament appearance in seven years, the team is starting out the summer apart. While some focus on rehabilitation and others look to fit new roles, the team is beginning to mentally prepare for a new season with heightened expectations.
As soon as GW’s breakout 24-win season ended, junior guard Joe McDonald had surgery on his injured left hip. He said he went in for the procedure as early as possible so he would have just enough time to recover before the start of the 2014-15 season.
McDonald is one of only two players on campus for the first summer session, earning a few credits while he rehabilitates his injury. He is working with Head Athletic Trainer Chris Hennelly to regain his range of motion, and began to lift weights using his upper-body muscles last week.
After playing through pain in nearly every game last season, McDonald said his body feels “great” after surgery.
“The physical therapist and athletic trainers said that [I would feel good] but not to get too eager,” McDonald said. “I’m just waiting for that moment when I can get back on the court with everybody.”
The junior has company in the training room: Fairfax, Va. native Kethan Savage has commuted to campus several times as he recovers from a broken metatarsal in his left foot. Savage and Lonergan said the junior guard should be ready for contact basketball in July’s Kenner League, where the entire roster – minus McDonald – is expected to play.
“My foot has no pain or anything, it’s good,” Savage said. “I’m feeling like I’ll be 100 percent maybe in about a month. I’m still working on getting my explosiveness back.”
Savage was averaging 13.4 points per game and led the team with 36 total steals before he was injured on Jan. 18 in a game against St. Bonaventure, forcing him to miss the rest of the regular season. Unable to go on the court, he said he instead watched college and NBA basketball, which allowed him to step back and study the game.
“When I couldn’t play, I tried to expand other parts of my game, expand my basketball IQ and just improve myself in any way possible so that when I do get back on the court in game situations I’ll
be ready to go,” Savage said.
Same faces, new roles
Lonergan will return four starters next season: McDonald, Savage, Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino. But replacing the stars who have graduated, particularly Isaiah Armwood and his team-leading 8.4 rebounds per game, will push familiar faces to adopt new roles next year.
McDonald was one of the league’s premier point guards in 2013-14 as he made nearly 40 percent of his three point shots, led GW with 50 steals and averaged 8.3 points per game. But he may move to shooting guard because of his demonstrated ability to rebound: The junior pulled down 4.6 rebounds per game from the point guard position last season.
With McDonald taking some minutes in the two spot, Savage will likely see more time at the point guard position.
“[Savage has] really expanded his game and if his foot stays healthy and everything – I’m not talking about just points – I think he’ll be even better than he was last year because he got so many repetitions and practice at playing point guard,” Lonergan said.
The change illustrates that keeping up the squad’s rebounding numbers – after the Colonials tied Dayton for the conference’s best rebounding margin last season – will be a top priority without Armwood.
Lonergan said senior John Kopriva will likely take over the fifth starting spot at power forward, and is working over the summer to gain weight and muscle to hold his own in the paint. Kopriva averaged 1.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 2013-14.
“If we had a game tomorrow night, [Kopriva] would be our starting four man, power forward,” Lonergan said. “He’s not going to replace [Armwood], for sure, no one person will on our team. But I think if our guards can each get another rebound, [Larsen] gets another rebound each game and [Kopriva] can average a decent amount of rebounds each game, then it can make up for the double-double that we’re losing.”
Settling down, bulking up
McDonald is the sole returning player still on campus, but rising freshman Yuta Watanabe is also taking classes while adjusting to life in D.C.
Lonergan invited Watanabe to his home over Memorial Day weekend, and his children taught the Japanese high school star how to play checkers. Lonergan said some of the older players also took Watanabe, a former member of the Japanese National Team, to a Washington Nationals game, where a group of Japanese teenagers in the stands asked for his autograph.
“I’m sure that was exciting for Yuta because he’s got a big reputation in Japan,” Lonergan said.
Lonergan said Watanabe, like many of the incoming freshmen, will prioritize bulking up over the summer before facing their first test at the Kenner League. The group of five is talented – but unproven, especially against the bigger bodies they’ll meet on college courts.
“It’s probably one of the skinniest classes I’ve had,” Lonergan said. “[Anthony] Swan, Watanabe and Matt Cimino are very thin [but Director of Strength and Conditioning] Matt Johnson does a great job. Their bodies can really change.”