For Colonials, Happiness Is Incremental

Carl Elliott, left, and GW, who drove past Jamon Gordon and Virginia Tech in December, will play Vanderbilt next.
Carl Elliott, left, and GW, who drove past Jamon Gordon and Virginia Tech in December, will play Vanderbilt next. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 12, 2007

Just minutes after George Washington learned of its seeding last night in the NCAA tournament, Colonials forward Regis Koundjia pulled out his cellphone and called an old teammate. Koundjia smiled as he stood on Smith Center's court, waited a few moments and started to leave a voice mail.

"Yo, Ross, are you ready?" Koundjia said, making sure to project his voice loud enough for Vanderbilt forward Ross Neltner to hear through the din of fans attending a rally at the arena. "We're going to smack that [rear end]."

Koundjia and Neltner, who both played at Louisiana State before transferring, will again share the same floor when the 11th-seeded Colonials take on the sixth-seeded Commodores in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Sacramento on Thursday.

Less than 24 hours after George Washington (23-8) booked its third straight NCAA tournament appearance by winning the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Colonials managed to overachieve again, receiving the 11th seed in the East Region when most projections had slotted GW 12th or even 13th.

Each time a fourth-seeded team popped up on the CBS selection show, the players, Coach Karl Hobbs and the rest of the coaching staff that were gathered at Smith Center leaned forward in their chairs, held their breaths and braced themselves, expecting that they would be named as the accompanying 13th seed.

One of the night's most anxious moments came when Texas was announced as a fourth seed. The crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed, then grew quiet as the thought of facing freshman phenom Kevin Durant kicked in. The Colonials weren't called, and the crowd cheered. Hobbs and several others swiped their arms over their foreheads, wiping away a layer of imaginary sweat.

Colonials Athletic Director Jack Kvancz, a former selection committee member, filled out his bracket even before the selection show. He slotted his school 12th.

"I got that feeling too, that people were looking for us to have a 12," Kvancz said. "When it came up 11, even though it's just one line, it shocked everybody and made the kids feel pretty good. Karl and his staff, and the kids have done a job, probably better than I thought they ever could do. That's a credit to them for thinking that they can. They did it."

When its name was finally called, GW's placement in the tournament sent those in attendance leaping from their seats. Point guard Carl Elliot, still wearing the Atlantic 10 conference championship T-shirt he picked up on Saturday, exchanged high-fives with teammates. The placement was quite a relief after the Colonials were slotted as a No. 8 last season and assured a second-round meeting with No. 1 Duke. The 2005 squad earned a No. 12 seed and fell to Georgia Tech in the first round.

"We were surprised when we came out as an 11 seed," forward Dokun Akingbade said. "We're excited and we're ready to go."

But Hobbs played down the importance of the seeding.

"I feel great about it," Hobbs said. "I don't understand all the questions about seeding. It has no bearing. You're going to play somebody very good, so it doesn't matter what seed you are."

George Washington will make its third trip to California this season, this time to face Vanderbilt (20-11), which came into the tournament off the bubble. The Commodores upset Florida on Feb. 17 and beat Tennessee and Alabama. Vanderbilt also swept its season series with Kentucky.

But the Commodores went 5-5 over their last 10 games, saved by their tough schedule.

"I feel confident we can get a few games in the tournament," Elliott said. "Guys are in high spirits. This A-10 championship got our confidence to another level."

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