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Deep and relentless George Washington is a perfect 8-0 atop the A-10 and enjoying its highest ranking in 50 years
This year's gut-check moment for George Washington didn't happen on the court. It took place on a boat above the Great Barrier Reef during the Colonials' five-game tour of Australia last August. "Eighty percent of the guys couldn't swim, but most of us had jumped in anyway," recalls 6'8" senior forward Mike Hall. "The only two left were [sophomore guard] Maureece Rice and Coach [Karl] Hobbs. Maureece said, 'If Coach jumps in, I'll jump in,' and Coach said, 'If Maureece jumps in, I'll jump in.' I know it sounds cheesy, but that was a defining moment for us. When they jumped in, we all knew we could rely on each other. Everybody helped each other in the water, and we had a great time. Since then everyone has been clicking."
The Colonials have been clicking so well that after beating Richmond 80-55 on Sunday for their 10th win in a row, they are 18-1 and 8-0 in the Atlantic 10. Moreover, they are ranked No. 8 in the nation, their highest position in 50 years. "The ranking doesn't bring pressure; it gives us motivation to keep playing well because everyone is counting on us," says Hall. "The student body, the faculty, even the maintenance people are so proud to have a team to cheer for."
Last season's team had created a buzz on campus too, after back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Maryland in December 2004 thrust GW into the Top 25 for the first time in six years. But the excitement passed as the Colonials dropped out of the polls by mid-January. "Last year we struggled with success," says Hobbs, who's in his fifth season as GW's coach. "We seemed surprised that teams were playing us so hard every night. If you watched us at the right time, you said, 'Boy, I don't want to play those guys.' But if you caught us on another day, you'd say, 'I can't wait to play those guys.' This year our effort has been far more consistent."
Aside from consistency, the hallmarks of this team are speed and an enviable depth that provides fresh legs as the Colonials press and trap on defense all game long. "We play so fast I don't think there are many teams who can play with us for 40 minutes," says 6'9" senior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu. "Maybe they can for 20 or 30 minutes, but with five minutes to go, we're still going to play like we did at the beginning. I think that definitely wears teams down."
Mensah-Bonsu, whose parents are from Ghana and whose last name means "whale killer" in his mother's native language of Twi, was averaging 12.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game at week's end. He's one of five players averaging more than 10 points a game for the well-balanced Colonials. A native of London who grew up playing soccer before he moved to Princeton, N.J., at age 15, Mensah-Bonsu has focused on basketball for only six years. "I still learn something new every year," he says. "That's my favorite part of the game."
With Mensah-Bonsu regularly drawing double and triple teams, there's room to operate for guards Carl Elliott, Danilo Pinnock and Rice (the team's sixth man), who have combined for 38.4 points a game. But Mensah-Bonsu, whom Hobbs calls the Mayor, draws even more attention off the court. "Pops has a million-dollar smile," says the coach. "When he walks around campus, people come up to him to hug him, kiss him and shake his hand."
These days, Mensah-Bonsu's teammates are enjoying the same celebrity treatment. "You can't walk a block around campus without getting a high five or somebody saying something nice," says Hall, who was leading the team in rebounding with 7.4 a game. "After four years, that is such a good thing to be a part of. We're going to keep working hard to make sure that doesn't end."
CARDINAL'S MR. CLUTCH