NEW YORK — George Washington could field a lineup rich with new players.
It's the older ones, though, who could make the biggest difference for the Colonials this season.
Coach Mike Lonergan's first full recruiting class arrived in Foggy Bottom over the summer, a five-man group with the potential to produce three immediate starters. Forward Isaiah Armwood, who sat out last season as a transfer from Villanova, is eligible this season.
It possesses the hallmarks of a standard-issue program makeover. New coach arrives, he brings his own players and a revitalization process commences.
It's not an illogical path for George Washington, which hasn't won an Atlantic 10 tournament game since 2007 and went 10-21 a year ago. Yet it's also clear to Lonergan he needs production from the remaining holdovers he inherited for the Colonials to surpass the 13th-place projection they received at the Atlantic 10's media day Thursday at the Barclays Center.
"Seven of the 13 guys, we recruited," Lonergan said. "But I think those other six guys, I think how successful we are this year will really depend on them. Everybody's going to talk about the freshmen, but they're freshmen. We need Lasan Kromah and Nemanja Mikic. Those were our starting two and three men last year. We need them to be much more productive than they were last year."
Saint Joseph's, which returns all five starters from a 20-14 team, edged Saint Louis as the preseason favorite. A-10 newcomers Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were picked third and sixth, respectively.
Those additions to what is now a 16-team conference won't make things easier for Lonergan as he attempts to restore GW as a contending program.
There's already one obvious roadblock in the early stages of the season. Forward David Pellom, who underwent wrist surgery in July, remains on track for a possible return next month. Pellom averaged 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds as a junior.
"My hope is sometime in November he's able to start practicing," Lonergan said. "Dave had a heck of a year and he's arguably our best returning player. It's just that I don't know what happens after four or five months of doing nothing. Can he come back? My hope is if he comes back close to full strength, we can pair him up with Isaiah Armwood, who's a proven player."
While Pellom is an important upperclassman, he's not the only one the Colonials could use help from as the likes of point guard Joe McDonald, swingman Patricio Garino and forward Kevin Larsen — all of whom impressed during an August tour of Italy — adapt to the college game.
Forward Dwayne Smith, who was limited early last season because of concussion-related symptoms, had a strong offseason. Kromah, now almost two years removed from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot, will be counted upon to improve his all-around game. The same goes for Mikic, known far more for his perimeter shooting than anything else during his Colonials career.
Despite those needs, Lonergan has several more options than he did a year ago.
"I think our upperclassmen know for them to play this year, they're really going to have play hard and play well because there's competition," Lonergan said. "When you don't have competition at a lot of positions, it's very difficult to coach because subconsciously guys know they're going to keep playing."
That made for one of the most trying years in Lonergan's 19 seasons as a head coach. Never before had he lost 20 games, and on only three occasions during stints at Catholic and Vermont did his teams post a losing record.
The influx of youth might not immediately change the Colonials' results. Still, Lonergan is optimistic this season will go more smoothly than his first.
"We have a lot of new faces and we'll have more depth, but we'll still be inexperienced," Lonergan said. "I think it will be a much more enjoyable year, no matter what the record, because I think we have a nucleus of guys."
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