- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2012

A bit before his first summer at George Washington, Patricio Garino called his old high school coach, Kevin Sutton, and laid out his plans for his first year.

Sutton, now a Colonials assistant, passed along Garino’s aims to coach Mike Lonergan.

Patricio told him, ‘I want to come and try to be a starter,’ but he didn’t say that in a cocky way,” Lonergan said. “He said it in a way I like, that he respectfully wanted to come in here. I give him all the credit in the world. He’s done that. He didn’t say that to me, but I like that coach Sutton told me that. The kid’s been unbelievable. He’s been one of our two best players so far.”

Garino hardly is the only freshman to make an impression this summer as George Washington prepared for a 10-day tour of Italy. The first of the Colonials’ six international games is Saturday against a U.S. naval base team in Naples.

In addition to Garino, 6-foot-10 center Kevin Larsen has impressed. So has Joe McDonald, who was competing with holdover Bryan Bynes for the nod at point guard.

Who starts now isn’t especially important in the big picture. After all, George Washington is nearly three months away from its Nov. 10 season opener against Youngstown State.

But it’s telling that Lonergan’s first full recruiting cycle in Foggy Bottom netted a five-man class that could immediately contribute and figures to leave a lasting impression in Lonergan’s rebuilding efforts.

“It was very appealing,” McDonald said about contributing early. “I wouldn’t want to go to a college and not play and just sit there. I’m trying to make the best out of this.”

It’s a sentiment Lonergan welcomes. After struggling through a 10-21 debut season with a limited roster, Lonergan is starting to construct a roster with his recruits.

An early addition was Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood, who is eligible after sitting out last season. McDonald and Kethan Savage are a pair of backcourt options from Landon and Episcopal, respectively, an early hint of Lonergan’s ability to re-establish George Washington as an option for local players eager to revitalize the program.

“That’s what I like about some of these guys,” Lonergan said. “They’re no-nonsense guys, and they’re about winning. I just have to make sure they’re realistic and understand we’re going to have some high and lows.”

The most polished of the bunch might be Garino, a 6-foot-5 Argentine swingman who played in the under-19 world championships last year. He was limited with a knee injury early in the summer, but his play over the past month especially encouraged the Colonials.

For his part, Garino is optimistic about his first season, especially with the visit to Italy that began Thursday.

“That was what I was looking for, to get some playing time, but I didn’t imagine it was going to be like this,” Garino said. “Coach Lonergan, he doesn’t play only five players. He rotates the team a lot, so it’s going to be a great opportunity for everybody to get better on the court.”

There will still be veterans in George Washington’s rotation. Lonergan said senior forward Dwayne Smith had a consistent offseason, while guard Lasan Kromah is coming off a midsummer knee injury. Senior forward David Pellom still is recovering from wrist surgery and will not play in Italy.

The Colonials’ freshmen, though, are available and prepared to make an impression during a trip that could accelerate the growth of a group that could form Lonergan’s future (and perhaps present) nucleus.

“Coach Lonergan has stressed that we’ll probably be a big part of the team, so I think it’s good we get to get in a little earlier than everybody else,” McDonald said.

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