- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

There are two teams in the Atlantic 10 West division that have won at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons, but George Washington is not one of them. In fact, the Colonials have not approached that plateau since 1999.

Despite this, several preseason magazines and polls have pegged GW as the division favorite.

Forgive coach Karl Hobbs if he isn’t sold on his team’s preseason hype.

“It’s kind of nice to have people pick us, but then you look at the reality of the situation,” Hobbs said. “We haven’t gone to either of those buildings [Xavier’s Cintas Center and University of Dayton Arena] and won in the past five years. We haven’t even been in a game at Dayton.

“Plus [Richmond’s] Jerry Wainwright is one of the best coaches around. I don’t care what kind of players he has, he’s going to win 20 games.”

Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons to like GW. The Colonials had nine players average at least nine minutes a game last season, and all are back. The only significant contributor not returning is Greg Colluci, who averaged 3.4 points and 8.0 minutes.

GW’s identity is all about transition offense and pressure defense. Hobbs utilizes his deep bench, and the Colonials forced nearly 17 turnovers a game last season.

“We have so much depth that we can wear people down in the second half,” senior guard T.J. Thompson said.

Thompson — one of only two seniors expected to contribute — makes the Colonials go. He led the team in scoring (13.2 points) and can be a lethal threat to shoot from the outside or blow past defenders in the open court.

Pops Mensah-Bonsu gained recognition for more than his name last season. As a sophomore, he was named the league’s most improved player, with his averages jumping to 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.

Mensah-Bonsu is a gifted 6-foot-9 athlete who fits nicely in the team’s run-and-gun style. He has added bulk during the offseason in an effort to be more effective in the paint. One concern with the London native is foul trouble. In the team’s season opener against Wake Forest, he fouled out and played only 22 minutes.

“Last year we brought him off the bench to avoid those early fouls,” Hobbs said. “We have to hope he can do that this year.”

The third man in GW’s leading trio is junior forward Mike Hall. Rarely flashy but always consistent, Hall was the team’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder with nearly eight a game.

The rest of the players all have unique roles and when their parts fit together, GW can prove very dangerous.

“I think we really need everybody,” Hobbs said. “We need [sophomore point guard] Carl Elliot to keep us under control. We need J.R. [Pinnock] to come in and be our defensive stopper. We need [6-11 junior] Alexander Kireev to be a physical presence inside. Whether he scores or not, he has to play well at the defensive end.”

More evidence of the Colonials’ potential was displayed Monday night against the No.2-ranked Demon Deacons. Despite the hostile environment, GW stayed with a team expected to compete for the national championship for the first 25 minutes before a second-half surge by Wake Forest put the game away.

“We gave a strong effort,” Thompson said. “We took this loss as a learning experience. We have some things to work on. We have to be willing to outwork every opponent, and we have to cut down on the turnovers.”

As for the preseason predictions, Thompson certainly didn’t shy away from them.

“It’s not really that much pressure,” Thompson said. “We feel like we have something to prove. There were three teams from our conference [Xavier, Dayton and Saint Joseph’s] in the NCAA tournament and we were in the NIT. We want to be up there with them this year.”

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