- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

George Washington coach Karl Hobbs admits this is the most anticipated season he has had since arriving in Foggy Bottom four years ago.

The Colonials are coming off an Atlantic 10 championship and NCAA tournament appearance. And they could be even better with four starters back, including Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall.

“I can honestly say that this is the first year that I have been anxious and really want to start the season,” Hobbs said as he starts his fifth season with GW’s version of Midnight Madness at 8p.m. at Smith Center. “Usually I am pretty patient. I don’t like to rush the season. I know it’s going to be here. This year, I am rushing the season.”

Hobbs is excited because the Colonials are now a senior-oriented squad with NCAA tournament experience. GW lost to Georgia Tech in the first round last March and appeared to be taking a step back when Mensah-Bonsu and Hall declared for the NBA Draft. However, both withdrew in time to retain their college eligibility and will join Omar Williams, as the three seniors anchor a group that will likely begin the season in the Top 25.

“When I look at last year’s team and what we accomplished, it gives me a great deal of confidence coming into this year,” said Hobbs, whose squad got a head start with a five-game exhibition trip to Australia during the summer. “We know if we improve in some areas we can have a real special season.”

The 6-foot-9 Mensah-Bonsu provided 12.4 points and 6.6 rebounds along with highlight-reel dunks and demoralizing blocks last season. At 6-8, Hall averaged 12.4 points and 8 rebounds and made 47 percent of his 3-pointers. Williams is another 6-9 slasher who totaled 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Versatile junior guard Carl Elliott (2.6 steals) is the other returning starter. Junior point guard J.R. Pinnock will take over for T.J. Thompson, the team’s leading scorer (13.6 points) and team MVP last season.

“J.R. is going to have to do a whole lot of things for us because he is stepping into the role of T.J. to a degree,” said Hobbs, whose last team went 22-8 and won the Atlantic 10 tournament last season. “But it is going to come down to Mike, Omar and Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Those are the three guys that have carried the program.”

Hobbs feels transfer Regis Koundjia, a 6-8 forward who started 18 games as a freshman at LSU, could become the team’s best player when he becomes eligible after the first semester. Sophomore Maureece Rice along with heralded freshmen Robert Diggs (Gwynn Park High School) and Noel Wilmore should give the Colonials a deep bench and the ability to keep up their trademark defensive pressure and relentless fastbreak attack.

Another optimistic program is George Mason, which will feature three seniors — Lamar Butler (15.7 points), Tony Skinn (14.4 points) and Jai Lewis (13.0 points) — as it has a real chance to win the CAA and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. Jim Larranaga’s team lost no players from last season but did suffer a blow when projected starting swingman John Vaughan tore an ACL last month and is out for the season.

The outlook is not so bright at American, Navy and Howard.

Coach Jeff Jones has failed to deliver AU to the NCAA tournament or NIT in his first five seasons. The Eagles return leading scorer Andre Ingram (15.3 points), but little else. They will rely heavily on South Carolina transfer Paulius Joneliunas, a 6-11, 240-pound Lithuanian. Navy finished 9-19 last season and lost its top three starters. Second-year coach Billy Lange will count on senior forward Matt Fannin (10.9 points). Former Penn assistant Gil Jackson takes over at Howard, which fired Frankie Allen after the Bison lost their final 17 games last season.

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