When Mike Lonergan began rebuilding the George Washington men’s basketball program three years ago, near the top of his agenda was adding a player who could provide instant credibility and perhaps attract other prospective recruits to come to Foggy Bottom.
Lonergan didn’t have to travel far to find his man. Isaiah Armwood was only a few hours’ drive up Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, where the 6-foot-9 forward played mostly as a reserve during his first two seasons at Villanova. Following the Wildcats’ summer trip to Europe before his junior year, Armwood decided he was going to transfer.
Lonergan was able to convince Armwood that George Washington was the right place for him for many reasons, not the least of which was the school’s proximity to Baltimore, his home town. Armwood also had familiarity with then-Colonials assistant Pete Strickland, who as an assistant at North Carolina State had recruited the third-team All-Met from Montrose Christian.
Turns out the move couldn’t have produced better results for all parties involved.
Armwood has started all 28 games during the Colonials’ most prosperous season since 2006-07. The senior is first on the team in rebounding (8.7) and third in scoring (12.1) as GW continues its push toward a berth in the NCAA tournament.
“He’s had an impact in a lot of ways,” Lonergan said of Armwood. “He got a lot of offers when he decided to leave Villanova. I think that helped us get local guys like Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen, who played at Montrose also. He changed the culture of the program with how hard he played.”
Armwood is among three players who will be recognized Wednesday as part of a senior night ceremony before the Colonials face Saint Joseph’s in a game that could have major implications near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings. Graduate-student guard and leading scorer Maurice Creek, who transferred from Indiana, and senior forward Nemanja Mikic are the others.
Resurgent GW (21-7, 9-5) is tied for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 and seeking to secure a top four seed and a double bye into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, which begins March 12. Saint Joseph’s is a game behind Saint Louis for first place and trying to preserve at least the No. 2 seed.
“It’s senior night, so we’re going to enjoy the moment,” Armwood said. “When the ball goes up, we’re going to try to concentrate on the game. We’re playing for NCAAs, for seeding in the A-10 tournament. There’s so many things we’re playing for.”
“When Coach Lonergan brought me in, he said he was trying change the culture of the program, and he wanted me to be a part of it. Me coming here same years as he did, it’s just something we started together, so we can always be remembered for that.”
The Colonials are coming off a 66-58 victory over George Mason on Sunday afternoon. Creek finished with a game-high 22 points, making 4 of 9 three-pointers, and Armwood had 11 points, a game-high 14 rebounds, three steals and three assists without a turnover.
GW has won two of three after its only two-game slide this season. The Colonials would finish in at least fourth place in the conference by winning their final two regular season games — GW finishes at last-place Fordham on Saturday — and having Massachusetts split. GW and the Minutemen have identical Atlantic 10 records, but Massachusetts owns the tiebreaker based on its 67-61 win at Smith Center on Feb. 15.
The Hawks (21-7, 11-3), meanwhile, have won six straight games and own the longest active winning streak in the Atlantic 10.
“For Armwood to have success, I feel good for him,” Saint Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli said. “For him to make the decision to leave a great program like Villanova, with all the glitz and the glamour that goes with that program, and to go to GW and to see him enjoying the experience makes you feel good, makes you feel like you’re in the right business.”