Looking Back: GW’s Love of Basketball

As Colonials close home schedule, George Washington Today relives highlights of the men’s 100-season program.

GW Basketball
March 05, 2014

By Julyssa Lopez

Holding a 21-7 record, the 2013-14 George Washington University men’s basketball team has awed the entire GW community with its consistently solid performances on the court. The collective efforts of first-year graduate student Maurice Creek; seniors Isaiah Armwood and Nemanja Mikic; and sophomores Joe McDonald, Kethan Savage, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen have received widespread attention in sports headlines around the country, making this a season to be remembered in Colonials history.

Tonight, the team will celebrate Senior Night and the final home game of the season. The event will honor the dedication of Mr. Creek, Mr. Armwood and Mr. Mikic, who have all made their time at the university invaluable. But 2013-14 is special for one more reason—it marks the 100th season of the men’s basketball program at GW.

Basketball first came to GW in the early 1900s. According to former University Archivist G. David Anderson, the Intercollegiate Basketball League created a rules committee at Columbia University to organize the game at the college level. Right on cue, Columbian College student Donald Wilhelm called a meeting at GW to discuss the possibility of creating a university team. He was confirmed as basketball manager at that first meeting and helped GW unveil its first men’s team.

The team’s first season culminated with a game against Georgetown University for the Southern Championship. GW walked away with a victory—and the title.

That feat was repeated again in the ’50s under the reign of beloved coach and Athletics Hall of Fame honoree Bill Reinhart. His 1953-54 Colonials made waves at the Southern Conference Tournament after boasting a 23-3 regular season record, winning 11 games consecutively. The team’s championship triumph led to GW’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the team lost to North Carolina State in the first round by just two points.

Despite a short first run in the NCAA, the Colonials didn’t lose steam the following year. Mr. Reinhart and All-American center Joe Holup, B.A. ’56, steered the team to 24 victories, then a record for victories in a single season.

The 1960-61 basketball season was one of surprises. The Colonials won only six of 22 games in the regular season and entered the Southern Conference Tournament as the No. 7 seed. But after some stellar performances and upsets, the Colonials made it to the championship game, where then-captain Jon Feldman, B.A. '62, scored 45 points—a Southern Conference Tournament record. GW earned its second invitation to the NCAA tournament, losing to Princeton University at a highly publicized game at Madison Square Garden.

However, basketball at the university faced some tumult following the 1960-61 Southern Conference Tournament victory and Mr. Reinhart’s retirement shortly after: The Colonials were unable to reach postseason play for close to three decades.

That all changed in 1990 with the arrival of head coach Mike Jarvis. Colonials Courtside, a GW basketball publication, described the former Boston University coach as leading the Colonials “to a new level of excellence.” The team achieved its first winning season in seven years and reached its first-ever A-10 championship game. The team also got a berth in the National Invitation Tournament, marking the beginning of eight postseason appearances for GW.

The 1992-93 year, widely touted as one of the team’s best seasons, boasted the university’s first NCAA bid since 1961. Led by Nigerian-born freshman center Yinka Dare, the team advanced to the Sweet 16 for the program’s furthest postseason run ever. Mr. Dare carried that same momentum into the next season.

“I’ve liked this team from day one. I’m starting to like it more and more as they have started to play what I consider to be winning, championship-style defense…I see a team that basically is developing an identity,” Mr. Jarvis said in an interview with Colonials Courtside.

The New Jersey Nets drafted Mr. Dare in 1994. He was just one of several noteworthy athletes to lead the Colonials to five NCAA Tournament appearances in the ’90s: Kwame Evans, B.A. ’96, was regarded as one of the best shooting guards in the A-10. Seven-foot-one center Alex Koul, B.A. ’97, became known on campus as “Washington’s New Monument” and went on to play professionally in Europe. Baltimore native Shawnta Rogers, B.A. ’99, was named the A-10’s Basketball Player of the Year and won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, an honor given to the best NCAA player under 6 feet. Although he was only 5’4”, his skills helped the Colonials achieve the A-10 West Division title in both 1998 and 1999.

The magic of the ’90s solidified GW as a force to be reckoned with in succeeding years as the turn of the millennium ushered in a new era of standout student-athletes and success. The Colonials made three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament from 2005-07 behind stars Pops Mensah-Bonsu, B.A. ’06; Mike Hall, B.A. ’96; and Carl Elliott, B.A. ’07. The team secured A-10 Championships in 2005 and 2007 around a banner 2005-06 campaign in which they won a record 27 games, including a perfect 16-0 A-10 regular season, and peaked at No. 6 in the national rankings.

Now under the leadership of third-year head coach Mike Lonergan, the Colonials are equipped to make this year just as unforgettable as standout seasons throughout GW basketball history. 

Memorable Moments in GW Basketball

At 7'1, Yinka Dare was one of the tallest basketball players in GW history.

The 2007 basketball team swept the Atlantic 10 Conference.

A Southern Conference medal from 1965.