- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

While the comparison is certainly flattering, the George Washington men’s basketball team doesn’t want to be categorized as this year’s Saint Joseph’s — meaning an Atlantic 10 team that unexpectedly makes a national impact.

But after the Colonials’ 6-1 start, such comparisons are inevitable.

“Saint Joe’s did something really special last year, and I feel we can do something really special this year,” said GW center Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who is the Colonials’ leading scorer and rebounder. “We’ve beaten a lot of good teams early. I definitely feel we’re on pace to do something special.”

Saint Joseph’s was college basketball’s story of the year much of last winter, going undefeated in the regular season and finishing with a 30-2 mark. After knocking off then-No.11 Michigan State (96-83) and then-No.12 Maryland (101-92) two weeks ago at the BB&T; Classic, the Colonials suddenly find themselves getting unaccustomed attention heading into tomorrow’s game against Towson at Smith Center.

During last week’s telecast of the Jimmy V Classic, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale praised GW. He also named fourth-year coach Karl Hobbs as his coach of the week on his Web site.

“I’m not naive enough to think because we’ve won two basketball games the program has arrived,” Hobbs said. “We’re a long ways away. To confirm that, all you have to do is look at the number of points [76.4] we’re giving up. All you have to do is look at the fact that teams are shooting a high percentage [46.3] against us.”

Hobbs’ defensive concerns are legitimate. But after stunning the two heavyweights in the BB&T;, the Colonials were ranked in the top 25 in both polls — No.21 by the Associated Press poll and No.25 by the coaches — for the first time in six years. Now they’re No.19 and No.22, respectively.

The Colonials are tied for the fourth-highest scoring offense (87.7), less than three points behind NCAA leader North Carolina (89.9). GW produces much of its offense by attacking the ball at the defensive end. The Colonials have four double-digit scorers led by Mensah-Bonsu at 17.4.

“I think our whole thing is wearing a team down,” sophomore guard Carl Elliott said. “We push the ball and constantly have guys coming in and out of the game, and that basically wears other teams down.”

Mensah-Bonsu, who was born in London, elevated his game after a rigorous offseason training regimen. He averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds over his first two season, and his improvement is a big reason GW has emerged as a top-25 team.

“The biggest thing I did in the summer is put on 20 pounds [to 240],” Mensah-Bonsu said. “I also went to the ABC camp, where some of the best players in the country went — Hakim Warrick from Syracuse and Charlie Villanueva of UConn. I played against them and showed my talents against those guys and saw where I was against the top-tier players in the country.”

After last season’s 18-12 NIT run, it was clear Hobbs had his team heading upward, especially with everyone returning this season except reserve guard Greg Collucci.

Among A-10 teams, perhaps only Temple can match GW’s backcourt of senior T.J. Thompson (16.1 points) and Elliott (9.4 points). Thompson, for instance, has connected on 23 of 38 3-pointers (60.5 percent), and GW leads the nation in 3-point shooting at 50 percent (47-for-94).

“Me and T.J. are like this year’s Jameer [Nelson] and Delonte [West],” Elliott said of the former backcourt stars from Saint Joseph’s. “We’re interchangeable. He can bring up the ball, and I can bring up the ball; he can play the two [shooting guard], and I can play the two. That’s good because T.J. is more of the scoring type, and I’m more of the passing-type player.”

GW hurts opponents with depth. Forwards Omar Williams (10.1 points) and Mike Hall (9.4) and swingman J.R. Pinnock (15.6) all can rotate through the frontline.

But before the Colonials can make any plans for the NCAA tournament, they must prove they can win on the road. The Colonials are 3-1 in games in neutral or hostile gyms, with their only loss at then-No.1 Wake Forest (97-76) in the Preseason NIT. Last season GW went 7-11 on road and neutral courts, which probably cost the Colonials an NCAA tournament trip.

The Wake Forest loss was a close game until the eight-minute mark, with GW trailing by five points until the Demon Deacons pulled away down the stretch.

“We’re where we want to be right now, but we realize that we’ve made a little name for ourselves so everybody is going to be hunting for us,” Thompson said. “We must make sure we bring our ‘A’ game every time.”

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