- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Karl Hobbs is going back in time.

The George Washington coach is not rewinding to last season, when the Colonials opened in the Top 25, rose to a program-best No. 6 ranking, finished 16-0 in the Atlantic 10 and 27-3 overall and earned a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth.

Hobbs, in his sixth season at GW, instead is thinking back to his second season in Washington.

It was then that Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Mike Hall and Omar Williams — the players who took the Colonials to unforeseen heights last season — landed as freshmen at a mediocre program.

“I was watching tapes of that season because that is the last time we were this inexperienced,” Hobbs said of a team that went 12-17. “I have been watching tape of Mike Hall and Omar their freshman year because I am trying to get these young guys to anticipate what is going happen. Unfortunately, as a coach, they have to be freshmen before they are sophomores.”

In many ways, Hobbs is starting over.

The Colonials lost four starters, including underclassman Danilo Pinnock, who unexpectedly left for the pro ranks. They also lost Montrell McDonald, a promising 6-foot-7 freshman last season who was suspended for violating team rules and left school.

“You lost five guys,” Hobbs said. “You don’t have much experience. You don’t have much depth. You are in transition now. And that presents a whole different set of challenges.”

And expectations. The Colonials were picked by Atlantic 10 coaches and reporters to finish fifth in the league, a major drop for a team that won the conference tournament in 2005 and earned an NCAA at-large bid last season.

The Colonials, however, hope to mature quickly. Playmaker Carl Elliott (11.5 points, 43.8 percent 3-point shooting) is the lone returning starter. Scoring sensation and A-10 sixth man of the year Maureece Rice (12.6 points) also will start in the potent backcourt.

“You have to ask what will Carl not be asked to do as opposed to what will he be asked to do,” Hobbs said. “He has to be just an impact guy. I feel he is the most complete player in the league if not the best player in the league.”

Senior Regis Koundjia, sophomore Noel Wilmore and freshman point guard Travis King give GW options on the wings. Small forward Cheyenne Moore, however, suffered a stress fracture in a leg and is not certain to return this season.

The biggest concern is in the paint, where the Colonials return no one with significant experience. Slender sophomore Rob Diggs showed flashes last season, and the 6-8, 187-pounder will need to lead the inside attack. Dokun Akingbade, a 6-9 senior who redshirted last season, also will start.

A pair of 6-8 freshmen, Damian Hollis and Herm Opoku, will back them up. Opoku, a native of Austria, will begin his career by serving an 11-game suspension levied for playing for a European club team.

“What you are hoping is these guys will pick up the concepts a lot quicker,” Hobbs said. “What you are hoping is that Maureece, Carl, Regis and Dokun can carry the load while these guys are learning. In the midst of all that, we have to find a way to steal some games.”

The squad will have a decidedly different look next season when 7-3 Jermaine Middleton, a transfer from Central Connecticut State, and Wynton Witherspoon, a 6-7 forward who began his career at Virginia Tech, become eligible.

These Colonials, however, will just have to try to grow up quickly.

“Guys understand we are not as good as last year,” Elliott said. “We’re young, and a lot of guys don’t know what to expect yet. It’s an experience that you have to go through. There is no real pressure because nobody expects anything out of this. We just have to go out and play basketball.”

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