Basketball Aiming for Big Seasons

Men’s and women’s teams have NCAA aspirations in 2015-16.

Colonials basketball
Seniors Patricio Garino and Jonquel Jones are key players for the Colonials this season. (File photos)
November 12, 2015

By James Irwin

It has been nine years since the George Washington men’s and women’s basketball teams reached the NCAA tournament at the same time. The Colonials came tantalizingly close the past two seasons, with the men reaching NCAA play and the women qualifying for the National Invitation Tournament in 2014, and the two teams flipping roles last year.

The 2015-16 season could be a big one in Foggy Bottom. The two teams are a combined 55-7 at home the past two seasons. Both have rosters loaded with experienced players.

“We have very high expectations, and we have talked as a team since July 6—the first day we were all together this summer—about the different journey this year is going to be,” said women’s basketball coach Jonathan Tsipis, whose Colonials won the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament a year ago. “A big part of what we’re trying to accomplish as a program is to have great consistency.”

The team has its first chance at building on that consistency when it opens the regular season Saturday at the Charles E. Smith Center. Mr. Tsipis’ team returns 13 players, including four of five starters. Senior Jonquel Jones, the reigning conference player and defensive player of the year, headlines the A-10’s best frontcourt, which also features junior Caira Washington and sophomore Kelli Prange.

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The Colonials, a preseason favorite to repeat as A-10 champions, have improved in every year of Mr. Tsipis’ tenure, from 14 wins in the 2012-13 season to a program record 29 a year ago. GW lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, 82-69, to Gonzaga University.

“It was great to make it to the NCAA tournament, but we’re not satisfied with just going to the first round,” Ms. Jones said. “We want to make it further. We want to do more this year.”

Mike Lonergan’s men’s basketball team, meanwhile, is looking to reach its second NCAA tournament in three years. Seniors Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald lead the Colonials, who finished 22-13 last year playing in a conference that has become one of the deepest in Division I. Six A-10 teams have finished with at least 20 wins in each of the past two seasons. Three have done it twice, including GW, which won 24 games in 2014-15.

“It started with them on day one—even before then when we went to Italy before their freshman year,” Mr. Lonergan said of his three senior starters. “We could tell right away that those guys were some of our best players. We were 13-17 that first year but we were very competitive. I knew then we would be pretty competitive in the future.”

Sophomore Yuta Watanabe headlines a talented group of underclassmen, while junior Tyler Cavanaugh—who sat out last season after transferring to GW from Wake Forest University—provides added size and versatility in the frontcourt.

“I think he’s going to have a great year,” Mr. Lonergan said. “I think he and Kevin will complement each other very well. We’re hoping to have some matchup problems in the frontcourt because of those two guys.”