Monday, March 28, 2005

On being a GW basketball fan, Part III

After further review . . .

. . . it didn't matter.

Wow, what a weekend!

On a related note---

Part III: 1998-99; 2004-05

I graduated from George Washington in May of 1998, but strangely enough, I was back on campus two days after commencement. (Speaker: Bob Dole. Bet with friend: whether he'd mention Viagra. Verdict: he didn't. Winner: me.) I would manage a dorm on campus for the summer; well, it was initially one, but it later became two.

The Mike Jarvis Era essentially ended with a bit of a whimper, a double-digit loss to Oklahoma St. in March. It ended officially in June of 1998, when he took over at St. Johns. I specifically recall conversations with friends at precisely that time; the first dorm I managed had a basketball court to its side, and several of us would play in the early evenings. The consensus was that the Colonials had become a trudging, boring team in the past two seasons, and the new man at the helm should be someone inclined to pick up the pace.

Well, if that's what the team needed, then that's what the team got: Tom Penders architect of the "BMW: The Ultimate Scoring Machine" team at Texas in 1990. Penders was also an Atlantic Ten veteran, coaching some pretty good Rhode Island teams during the (charitably speaking) "down years" for the Colonials in the 1980s.

By the start of the season, I still had a GW student ID card (through some sort of glitch, I was still coded into every single building on campus, even after the summer was over), I still had many friends on campus, I lived in an apartment just off of campus, and I worked about a seven minute walk from campus. I went to a lot of games during the '98-99 season, and it was maybe the most fun I had watching GW basketball during my years in Washington.

The Colonials were not just good, but flashy good. Little point man Shawnta Rogers had spent the past three seasons refining his game, improving his shot, and learning to be a tremendously tenacious rebounder for a guy no taller than my grandmother. Rogers, like most everybody else, was a holdover from the Jarvis years, but he clicked like he hadn't since first appearing for the Colonials in early 1995.

The A-10's focus and powerbase had started to shift south and west by now; Temple was still around, but UMass had ceded to Rhode Island the distinction of second northeastern power, and Rhode Island, while explosive at times, was nothing like UMass two or three years earlier. When I came to campus, the edges and hot buttons were the words "Temple" and "UMass"; by the time I left, "Xavier" was a dirty word.

And did those guys ever earn the distinction, because they were a dirty lot; Skip Prosser coached those guys up that way. There's no kind way of saying it---Prosser had a gang of thugs.

Wouldn't you know that the season hung in the balance against Xavier? One game remained in the regular season, at the Smith Center. The winner won the A-10 West and pretty much wrapped up an at-large bid. Rogers and James Posey of Xavier were the best players in the league, so the member of the winning team likely would claim conference player-of-the-year honors, too.

It's my understanding---though I could have heard incorrectly---that the DC media covered the GW team fairly well this season; if so, it was probably the first time since 1999. Shawnta Rogers was a neat story (not only his rather distinct size, but also that he worked his way to relative success in the classroom and was a great floor leader), and no neater story could have occurred than transpired that late February/early March day. Remember when Michael Jordan had that unconscious game against Utah, despite the flu? That was Shawnta Rogers, a year or two later.

Actually, it wasn't Rogers's best game, but it was the most perfect finish one could imagine: He nailed a three at the buzzer to win the game! The noise was absolutely deafening, louder even than The UMass Game. The ESPN announcers (one of whom, Dave Simms, is a very good announcer, but infuriated me when he declared the '98 A-10 Final vs. Xavier "an X kind of day," whatever that meant) literally jumped out of their chairs. It was incredible, to say the least. The Hatchet runs a site that lists the top ten games and players in GW history, and that game propelled Shawnta Rogers into the top five---at least---on both lists.

GW would make the NCAA tournament; Xavier wouldn't. Heh.

We drove up to Philly the next week for the A-10 semifinals. To paraphrase Al Pacino's character in "City Hall," we expected a quick sojourn through Rhode Island and a longer engagement with Temple in the final. Well, we got a quick sojourn, alright. Lamar Odom and Co. broke it open six minutes in, if that. (Odom subsequently hit a miracle three against Temple to put Rhode Island back in the Big Dance; those guys, without Odom, I believe, had come oh-so-close against Stanford in the Elite Eight the previous season---just another near-miss in that round for the A-10 in the last generation, most involving Temple.)

Just a slight blip, right? Nope. The Colonials drew Indiana and just got gassed in the first round of the NCAA tournament, 108-88. Giving up 108 points to Indiana is like, I don't know, allowing the '04 Expos to hang a 15-spot on you. GW played like it had never seen a back-door cut before. It got so bad that a significant grassroots effort emerged to pop in "Dead Man on Campus", which my roommate rented for probably no reason other than "Saved by the Bell" nostalgia. The GW game carried the day (or night), but just barely.

I'd like to say I kept up as fervently after that, but I guessed I just moved on to a new phase in life; I think that, for a year, I wanted to believe I was still in college. Or maybe the Colonials weren't as easy on the eyes. Probably both.

The 1999-00 season brought this chuckster named SirValiant Brown to Foggy Bottom. He picked up some headlines because of his quirky name and a gaudy scoring average, but he was nothing more than a poor man's version of Allen Iverson's worst basketball qualities. Watching him go 9-for-27 in February of 2000 would have been like expecting George Michael synth-pop to come on MTV in 1995. No dice.

The team became a charicature of what we hoped for when he pined for an "up-tempo" team. Replace "up-tempo" with "sloppy," and you've got it. There was an A-10 tourney game, maybe in 2001, when post man Patrick Ngongba---dubbed "The Human Turnover" by us when he debuted in Jarvis's last season---post the team the game and the season by fouling a three-point shooter or something equally nonsensical at the end of the game.

I lost interest during the 1999-2002 years, or thereabouts; I couldn't even tell you if Val Brown stuck around for two or three years. I do know, and most everybody realized, that his contemporary, Chris Monroe (imagine Shawnta Rogers a foot taller and more of a swingman), was the only reason to watch the team.

Penders left after the 2001 season, replaced by former UConn assistant Karl Hobbs, who goes way back with Jarvis (who, by the way, is now an ESPN analyst---and a pretty good one). This was the first season after I moved back to Richmond, and I confess that I faced a conflict of interest: Richmond joined the A-10 for the '01-02 season, and they were good right off the bat. Richmond and GW, both situated in the West division, play home-and-home, twice a year.

Since exiting boyhood, I've lost much of my ability to root passionately and subjectively for a team; blame it on sabermetrics, I think. GW basketball is the exception, but some of that link---to be honest---was cut when I backed away from campus, and more of it was cut when I moved back to Richmond. I actually rediscovered some of that passion for GW this year, and I think I'm getting it back fully now for the Nats. (For instance, I entered Nats' fandom with the attitude that my interest in the Orioles---existing since childhood---could sustain itself. I am discovering that this is not the case. Expect a post on this soon.)

Well, I have two alma matters now: GW undergrad and Richmond law. During '01-04, I rooted selectively---basically, whichever team needed the game more, I rooted for that team. I know that sounds bad, but it's reasonable to an extent. Spiders basketball is big down here---it's a very proud program, especially in light of its national reputation in postseason play---and I grew up surrounded by it. If anything, GW is the interloper, at least from a certain point of view.

To be frank, Richmond was the better team during '01-04, and this not being the ACC or SEC or Big Ten or Big East, Richmond needed every win it could get---including against GW. And it paid off: Richmond made the '04 tournament as an at-large in 2004, something it hadn't done since 1986.

So, what was the '04-05 season? Was it a resurgence in my avidity to GW basketball? Or was it a response to a down year by Richmond? I suppose I shouldn't analyze the situation too much; after all, I learned to love a new generation of GW players, and that is enough.

And, so, there I was two Fridays ago---watching a game on television, but not the game being shown. Whereas the images of Old Dominion and Michigan St. were filling the screen, I was concentrating on the far top corner of the screen, little tiny type and a running clock of a game taking place not in Worchester but in Nashville. That is how I "watched" GW's first round game vs. Georgia Tech. That is how I remained hope as the Colonials stayed within two-to-five points of Tech most of the game; that is how I become despondent when, over the course of four minutes, the score progressed from 57-56, to

59-56, to

61-56, to

64-56, to

67-56, and finally to


It was a hard way to take a defeat; then again, it was a fan's way to take a defeat.

Nice article about the history of GW hoops and your involvement as a fan. I was a walk on on the 1988-1989 team that went 1-27. I now live in Atlanta and was fortunate enough to get to Nasville to see the NCAA tourney game against Ga. Tech. Couldn't hit the free throws under pressure but athletically definately competed. With Pops, Hall, Pinnock, Elliot and others returning, looking forward to next year.

Go Colonials!

Michael L. Neff
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