Four years ago, The George Washington University was coming off an NIT championship and optimism for the future of the program was in the air. It was great to see from my alma mater.
A couple months later, head coach Mike Lonergan was fired after allegations of verbal and emotional abuse of players on the team. From there, the team struggled to be relevant with the team bottoming out at 9-24 in Maurice Joseph’s final season before he was let go.
Last year, things seemed to turn the corner with the announcement of Jamion Christian as the new head coach. The DMV native took on the role with enormous enthusiasm that had the fanbase fired up. Christian inherited a team that had some great returning pieces and exciting freshmen, including Jameer Nelson Jr. and Jamison Battle. The Christian Era got off to a rocky start in 2019 with early losses to Towson, American, Morgan State, and UMKC. It seemed like every Jon Rothstein “epitome of brutality” tweet last year was about the Colonials.
With GW returning most of that roster and bringing in another good recruiting class, I was optimistic for 2020-21. We’re playing in a pandemic and that certainly tamped down my expectations, as I knew the team wouldn’t have as much time to practice and prepare as it normally would — but then again no one had that luxury — so the playing field was pretty even.
To say things are off to a bad start would be an understatement. The team is currently 1-6 with the one win coming over Coppin State. Losses to Hampton, Delaware, William and Mary, and Charlotte have all been close, but ultimately are still losses. Throughout the season, the style of play has been changed, starters have been relegated to the bench, and now ultimately the makeup of the team has changed.
In the last week alone, GW has lost Maceo Jack and Jameer Nelson Jr., two players that any team in the country could use. Both saw drastic role changes with the senior Jack and sophomore Nelson Jr. being relegated to the bench. Senior Ace Stallings has also chosen to opt out of the season, leaving GW down three players in less than a week.
What does this mean for the future of the program? Nelson Jr. was one of the most talented players I’ve seen in Foggy Bottom. He was one of Jamion’s first recruits and you couldn’t help but be excited about it. Nelson Jr. made an immediate impact his freshman year, starting in 28 games and playing in all 31. He was a spark for the team filling the stat sheet averaging over 10.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. As a fan, I was thrilled to see what Nelson Jr. would be able to do on the court for the Colonials. However, for some reason, Nelson Jr. saw a major decrease in minutes, going from averaging 74% of minutes played his freshman year to 64% this season, bottoming out in GW’s last game against Charlotte with a mere 10 minutes.
Losing a senior leader in Jack midseason is never a good look and leads you to think something is brewing in DC once again. When Jack’s departure was announced, Christian said:
“He is a terrific shooter on the court, an exceptional leader in our locker room, and more importantly, just an amazing person.”
No coach is going to bash a guy on the way out, but what does it say about the program when one of your senior leaders — someone that you call out for his leadership skills and character — decides to leave in the middle of the year? Outside of the locker room leader what else does GW lose with Jack’s departure? Last season Jack averaged 11.7 points per game, shooting 34% from 3 in about 35 minutes per game. How does an excellent leader and big-time scorer get relegated to a bench player averaging 21 minutes this year? That’s the question that needs to be answered.
Lesser roles is clearly the common denominator in these two transfer situations. What does it mean for the future of the program? I want to believe. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Christian without a smile (even with his mask and face shield on this year). When he speaks, he tries to find the optimism in everything. He’s a guy who, just by listening to him, you’d want to play for. However, at the end of the day, three players have left the program in a week and the team has replaced Fordham as the bottom-feeder of the A-10. We’ve seen what GW can do when coaching and talent come together. It’s time to see the optimism that Christian speaks to frequently actually show up on the court. This program can and should be better. Christian has the team he wants. These are all Christian-recruited players. Now is the time where we see what GW is really made of.