It was the biggest news that came out of this offseason: The Colonials’ core four had become three.
In early April, junior guard Kethan Savage announced he would transfer from the program in an attempt to play point guard full-time elsewhere, following the transfer announcements of freshman Darian Bryant and sophomore Nick Griffin a few weeks prior.
“The initial reaction was a little saddening, but we understood the reasons why and at the end of the day you’ve got to make decisions that are best for yourself,” senior guard Joe McDonald said. “There are no hard feelings or anything like that. He’s still a brother to us.”
Savage will sit out the upcoming season per NCAA transfer rules, and begin his final year of eligibility at Butler in 2016‒2017. With his departure, the team loses a clutch ball handler and its second-highest scorer of 2014‒2015, but with more seasoned seniors and a handful of fresh faces, the Colonials are confident that their offensive production will not take a hit.
Just behind then-junior forward Patricio Garino, Savage averaged 11.7 points per game, was the team’s leading scorer in 11 games last season and posted a career-high 25 points in GW’s season-ending loss to Temple in the second round of the NIT.
“I think we’ll have to make up for that loss with a group of guys. [Savage] was really a good sixth man for us and it was nice to bring a guy off the bench who could score. But my hope is that with the addition of Tyler Cavanaugh and Paul Jorgensen being a year older and Alex [Mitola] being here, we’ll miss Kethan, but hopefully our bench will be stronger,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.
Savage began the year as a starter, usually at the two spot, but was replaced by then-freshman Yuta Watanabe later in the season to provide a threat off the bench. But while Savage’s scoring numbers were high, his shooting efficiency was average at best.
His 40.1 percent (126‒314) field goal and 30 percent (24‒80) three-point clips were middle-of-the-pack numbers compared to his teammates’, and his offensive rating of 104.2 per 100 possessions was only the sixth best on the team.
Senior forward Kevin Larsen, who considered Savage one of his closest friends at GW, agreed with Lonergan that this year’s new additions can make up for his scoring, but that other parts of Savage’s game will be missed.
“We’ve got Tyler coming in and he can really make up for some of those points. And I think Joe is going to raise his scoring total, so I don’t think we’re going to miss his scoring. It’s more his athleticism,” Larsen said. “He was the one guy who could go to the rim whenever he wanted and create for others.”
While that athleticism ‒ and what McDonald described as Savage’s “unique style” ‒ may never be replaced, the guard situation looks nothing but promising for the Colonials this year, with a mix of talent that includes sharpshooters and smart playmakers.
GW returns veteran leader McDonald, as well as his backup and projected sixth man Paul Jorgensen. In 356 minutes on the floor during his rookie campaign, the now-sophomore averaged 3.6 points per game, hitting 16 of 40 from three-point range.
“It’s been great. On our road trips, me and [Paul] always room together. I’ve had a lot of time to talk with him, get to know him, understand his style. We’ve gone against each other millions of times in practice. He has a type of swagger to him that we can use this year,” McDonald said. “For us to reach our goals, we’ll need Paul, we’ll need the guys off the bench. I believe he’ll do great this year for us and be a big contributor.”
Lonergan also suggested that graduate student and Dartmouth transfer Alex Mitola could see some time as point guard this season. His 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season with the Big Green was the second best in the Ivy League, a statistic GW struggled with frequently last year. Lonergan described Mitola as a smart ball handler whom he could also use at the one, especially when they have leads late in games on account of his superb free throw shooting ability.
Mitola has been playing with junior Seton Hall transfer Jaren Sina, who becomes eligible to play for the Colonials in 2016-2017, since fifth grade. Growing up, the 5-foot-11-inch guard had experience playing both on and off the ball, splitting the point guard and shooting guard position with Sina, as both players developed skills at both positions.
“I think from the point guard standpoint, the more practice I get with the plays is important because you really have to be the leader on the floor. I’m sure I’ll get more comfortable with that as the season goes on if Coach wants to use me in that role,” Mitola said. “I’m taking practice pretty seriously to try and get some chemistry and figure that stuff out on the floor in practice, so it’s smoother in the games.”
One final role Savage leaves vacant is that of a ball handler in game-on-the-line situations. Although not successful in every instance, in a handful of contests last season, it was Savage who had the ball in his hands when the game hung in the balance.
This year McDonald thinks that player could either be himself or Larsen, whom he considers the two best passers on the team, while Larsen sees that responsibility being shared collectively by the team as a whole.
“I think all five guys on the floor at any moment could get a bucket, so I think it’s going to be more team-oriented this year than last year, and I think teams are going to have a harder time figuring it out,” Larsen said.