With the end of the NBA Finals, a dark period that is the void of basketball begins for men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan. But the pressure is on for the 2015–2016 season — the last chance for seniors Joe McDonald, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen to get back to the NCAA Tournament — and a busy offseason is well underway. We caught up with Lonergan in his office to talk about the news from the team this summer, and what to expect in the fall. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Three players transferred out at the end of the season, and you added two. Do you think you may add a third?
Mike Lonergan: We would love to get a post player. And a graduate student like [shooting guard] Alex [Mitola] that wants to go to a very good school and pursue a master’s but those guys are being pursued by everyone in the country. So there are some transfers that people put in articles in ESPN that say we were interested, and we weren’t, and there are others that we were and they chose other schools. So could something still happen? Yeah. There’s nothing going on right now but [Wake Forest transfer] Tyler [Cavanaugh] decided in late June to come here and Isaiah [Armwood] was in August. So we’ll see, but we’re not just going to take someone to take someone. We’ve got very good chemistry. We’ve got a great group of guys. It would have to be the right fit.
You signed a lot of home-and-home agreements that began on the road last year, but are coming back to the Smith Center this fall. Are you excited for the team to have home court in big games and for the fans to get to see them in person?
ML: There’s no guarantee you win at home, but if I’m buying season tickets at GW, I’ve got Rutgers, Penn State, Seton Hall and Virginia. That’s pretty good. Not to mention VCU and whoever else that’s coming in. And it’s hard. It’s really hard to get those games. [Athletic director] Patrick Nero and I both believe in scheduling and the fan experience and the student athlete experience, so I am happy about that. So now we’re trying to get those games for upcoming years which has become even harder, to be honest with you, because we’ve done well the last two years and it’s hard. A lot of the coaches, they want to just get wins.
What are your offseason priorities?
ML: We’re trying to work on ball handling because we’re going to have a pretty tall lineup. Patricio and Yuta [Watanabe] give us a lot of length and height at the wings but we’re really trying to do a lot of ball-handling drills with them because a lot of times they’re going to have guys, especially Yuta, guarding them that are shorter players, and it’s a long way for that ball coming up. So that’s probably one of the points of emphasis with our individual workouts, and stuff is to get better at ball handling.
Do you do anything fun with the team during the offseason?
ML: When they run, they run down to the Vietnam Memorial and to the wall and they have to remember a name. And they have to remember it the whole time they come back and they’ve got to look up a name on the computer, or I don’t know if they look it up or one of the graduate assistants [looks it up]. But I was in the weight room yesterday and they print basically the biography of the person who died in the war, so in the weight room there are all these names. So I was like, “Oh, that’s awesome.” It’s just something so that when they run down there, they have to remember the name. And if they forget the name, I think they have to do like 100 pushups or something. So it’s also a thing to try to remember.
One of the big stories this time last year was Cavanaugh’s transfer. After having a year to watch him in practice, what are your expectations for him in his first year being able to play in games for GW?
ML: I’m hoping Tyler is a double-digit scorer. I don’t know whether that’s 10 or 14. I mean he was averaging 8.8 a game in arguably the hardest conference in the country, so I think he’s now a year older, knows our system, so I think he can really take some pressure off Kevin [Larsen] because of his size. And he’ll draw a lot of attention because he can shoot threes and he can score inside. I think he’s going to be really good for us. I just don’t know what that means statistically.
You’ve added a lot of shooters to the team. How will that impact how you use the roster?
ML: My hope is we’ll be more difficult to guard. And even Alex Mitola, you can’t forget about him. He’s a great shooter. When we sub we probably are going to be small later. Davidson did a great job of playing a lot of shooters and guards, and it didn’t hurt them too much. We’re going to have to hide our lack of size defensively when we get into our bench but the shorter shot clock and different things, we might even tweak our 1-3-1 and do some things to keep teams from getting the ball inside and taking advantage of us.”
You’ve added pieces that stood out in Division III and in weaker conferences like the Ivy League. How can you know if their skills will transfer against bigger, more physical players?
ML: [Junior guard] Matt Hart, he’s got to prove it in the game. As a D-III player [at Hamilton], it’s definitely a big difference. I think he’s done everything right. He’s got the ability to be in the rotation based on his shooting ability alone. The other things we will see. But Mitola was in the Ivy League [at Dartmouth]. It’s definitely a lower-level conference but it’s a lot different than D-III. Mitola went to Harvard last year and they beat Harvard, and he was the leading scorer in that game. So he’s done it. He’s proven to me that he’s a Division I player. Not at this level, but he’s a three-year starter, second in the league in free-throw shooting in the league that’s probably the best free-throw shooting league in the country. So there’s some areas where he can help us, whether he’s the sixth man or 10th man, that’s going to be up to him.
Have you heard about the D.C. Council proposal for a local college basketball tournament?
ML: If D.C. or somebody else can make the games happen, I think it would be great, not as the coach of GW but just as a fan. Maryland is playing Georgetown but that’s not because Maryland and Georgetown agreed to play, that’s because those conferences are forcing it. But I think that’s great if those teams play for whatever reason because I think that’s good for the area, and this is a great area for high school basketball, college basketball. I don’t really know what’s going to happen with that, but it’s kind of nice that somebody’s trying to make something happen. Hey, we’d love to play Maryland or Georgetown. I have no problem saying that but that’s it. I don’t have that power to make it happen.
Have you seen any of the NBA playoffs?
ML: I’m all excited about them but — it’s not because I’m asleep when they’re on — but there’s just always something going on. We had some visits. And then the Wizards: I finally got to watch some. It would always be the fourth quarter when my kids are in bed I’d watch. I just can’t get over, the play I can’t get over — and I like Nene, he didn’t box out well and the guy laid in the ball … I thought that turned the series around. But I’m excited because I’m not a hockey guy at all, but just being from the area. For me, when sports are good, it helps all of us. The Nats are hot, but having the Wizards and Capitals, and I like their owner. I don’t know him but I like their organization. Having them be good now, I think, is exciting for the area.