Colonials Prepare for Brighter Spotlight

Men’s basketball Coach Mike Lonergan says team needs to improve consistency after winning tournament in Honolulu.

Coach Mike Lonergan's squad will host VMI Tuesday at the Smith Center. (William Atkins/GW Today)
Coach Mike Lonergan's squad will host VMI Tuesday at the Smith Center. (William Atkins/GW Today)
December 29, 2014

By Keith Harriston

It wasn’t until three nights after George Washington University men’s basketball team upset 11th-ranked Wichita State to win the championship of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic that Coach Mike Lonergan got a decent night’s sleep.

First came dinner with family and friends after the championship game in Honolulu.

Then there was watching—and enjoying—the news cycle when the Colonials received good runs during college basketball segments on sports networks.

There was the long redeye flight back to Washington, D.C.

And then there was the time it took Mr. Lonergan to answer about 250 text messages and 100-plus emails from friends and supporters congratulating the coach on the impressive victory over Wichita State.

“That night was Christmas night,” Mr. Lonergan said. “I couldn’t believe how many highlights we made” on ESPN’s Sports Center.

“And answering all those messages. You want to answer all of them. It took until last night to get a good seven or eight hours” of sleep, Mr. Lonergan said.

The coach spoke with reporters on Monday afternoon after his Colonials completed a practice in preparation for a Tuesday night game against Virginia Military Institute at the Charles E. Smith Center.

The three victories at the Diamond Head Classic left the Colonials with a record of 9-3 before the Tuesday game against VMI (5-7). The team plays its first Atlantic 10 Conference game on Saturday at St. Joseph’s, which was 6-4 before playing at the University of Denver on Monday night.

“I told my team we had a chance to be 10-3 going into 2015,” Lonergan said. “We have to get focused on VMI.”

But even as his Colonials went through defensive preparation for VMI, Mr. Lonergan could enjoy the benefits of the team’s victories in Hawaii. The coach said he looked at the brackets for the tournament, he hoped that his team would meet Wichita State in the championship game.

“It was our chance to beat a Top 20 team,” he said.

The Colonials trailed the Shockers at halftime and were down by eight points with over seven minutes to play in the game. But the team overcame the deficit with a strong team defensive effort.

Junior Kevin Larsen was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Against Wichita State, Mr. Larsen tallied 10 points, five rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and a steal.

“When you win, everybody gets recognition. It was a great win for the program and for the university,” Mr. Lonergan said. “I hope it helps us with recruiting.”

But Mr. Lonergan cautioned Colonials fans against penciling-in the team for a spot in the NCAA tournament. He pointed out that eight members of the team didn’t play last year, and five of those are freshmen.

“We’re far from where we need to be,” the coach said. “We’re going to be inconsistent. You’re going to be inconsistent when you are trying to build depth. We want to get to an eight-man rotation.”

While that building goes on, while the youngsters on the team gain playing time and maturity, the 2014 Diamond Head Classic tournament trophy sits in the Charles E. Smith Center. It serves as a reminder of what the team can accomplish.

“I could not have written a better story,” Mr. Lonergan said.