GW women’s team travels to Georgetown; men’s team plays the University of Maryland Eastern Shore at the Smith Center.
By Keith Harriston
George Washington University women’s and men’s basketball teams open their seasons on Friday with two commonalities: both are coming off of successful seasons and both are starting the 2016-2017 season with new head coaches.
The women’s team will play at Georgetown at 7 p.m. The men open the season at 7 p.m. against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore at the Smith Center. Tickets for both are available online.
The women’s team was picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll after finishing last year in a three-way tie for first place and alone in first place in 2014. But don’t think that new head coach Jennifer Rizzotti or the Colonials are taking the pre-season prediction as any kind of slight.
“I’ve never put a whole lot of stock in preseason polls during my career,” said Ms. Rizzotti, who spent 17 seasons as head coach at the University of Hartford. “But to be honest with you, I don’t think this group needs any extra motivation. They seem pretty determined to prove themselves…and to be even better than they have been in the past.”
Ms. Rizzotti has taken over a team that over the past two seasons has compiled a record of 28-4 in the Atlantic 10 Conference, 55-11 overall. The team made the NCAA women’s basketball tournament both years.
“Always important to have kids who already know how to win,” she said. “That experience is really important to have.”
The women’s team returns senior forward Caira Washington, who was named preseason All Conference First Team and to the A-10 All-Defensive Team, and senior guard Hannah Schaible, who was named to the preseason All Conference Third Team.
Ms. Washington, who averaged 13 points and almost nine rebounds a game last year, said, “it’s been great” working with Ms. Rizzotti. “She doesn’t let anyone work below the standard. Everyone is being held accountable.”
She said she is working on playing up to her potential every time she takes the court and “growing as a leader, becoming more vocal.”
As for predictions for this season, Ms. Rizzotti was having none of that.
“We can’t look past our own practice tomorrow,” the coach said. “I’m not think of anyone except Georgetown.”
Men’s Team Moving Forward
The men’s basketball team is full of new faces: seven new players, six of them freshmen, and a new interim head coach, Maurice Joseph.
It’s a different team than the Colonials who were champions of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) last year after finishing fifth in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The preseason poll slotted the Colonials to finish eighth in the conference in 2016-2017.
Mr. Joseph likes where his team is as the group gets ready to open its regular season on Friday at the Smith Center.
Interim men's basketball coach Maurice Joseph says his plan for the season that starts Nov. 11 is for the team to "control the controllables." (William Atkins/GW Today)
“The summer was great,” he said. “We had our guys here for our foreign tour. We got to build chemistry and put everything in early. The guys have been rock solid from the jump. They never wavered in their attention to detail.”
The team’s key returning players are graduate student Tyler Cavanaugh, a 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 16.9 points and 7 rebounds a game and was second team All Atlantic 10, and junior forward Yuta Watanabe, who lead the team in blocks last year while averaging 8 points a game.
“I expect [Yuta] to take a big jump this year,” Mr. Joseph said.
Mr. Cavanaugh, one of two graduate students on the team, refers to himself as “the old guy. It is interesting being around all of these 18 year olds,” he said.
The team toured Japan in the summer. The games provided an opportunity to build chemistry and gave the freshmen an idea of what it’s like to play major college basketball.
“It’s going to be difficult with a lot of young guys learning the importance of every game, of every possession,” Mr. Cavanaugh said. “How each little detail matters.
“But we’ve been improving each week. And that is what we have to continue to do as we move forward.”
Matt Hart, a senior guard who shot 41 percent from the three-point line last year, said that it is good that Mr. Joseph stresses energy and effort at every opportunity.
“[Players] need to understand you have to give energy and effort on every play, even in practice,” Mr. Hart said. “Someone has to step up. Tyler and I accept all challenges. We love taking it head on and being leaders on this team.”
Being NIT champions is “a big deal,” Mr. Hart said. “But this is a new season. We are focusing on winning the games on our schedule.”