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Taylor has George Washington heading in the right direction

By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 6:14 PM

In a preseason poll, George Washington was picked to finish 10th in the Atlantic 10 Conference, and that was before its top returning scorer, Lasan Kromah, went down with a season-ending foot injury.

Given Kromah's injury and the Colonials recent history, the outlook appeared bleak for GW.

But after stumbling early, the Colonials proved the prognosticators wrong by tying for fourth place and earning the fifth seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. For the first time since the tournament switched to its new format, GW will host a first-round game. The Colonials (17-13, 10-6 Atlantic 10), who have won six of their past seven games, play No. 12 seed Saint Joseph's (4-12, 9-21) on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

A big reason for this surprising turnaround has been the play of junior point guard Tony Taylor. As GW Coach Karl Hobbs has noted throughout the season, as Taylor goes so go the Colonials.

"We need Tony for everything," he said.

Hobbs isn't exaggerating for effect. The Colonials do need Taylor on both ends of the court. He leads them in scoring (14.8 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg), single-handedly accounting for more than a third of their offense. He is one of their better defenders, leading them in steals (40). And he rarely comes off the court, leading them in minutes played (33.1 per game). Because his all-around play is so crucial to his team's success this season, Taylor earned all-Atlantic 10 second-team honors, the highest selection for a GW player since 2006.

"Whatever we need, he's the one that does it," teammate Aaron Ware said.

Almost from the day he arrived on campus, Taylor had the ball in his hands, running GW's offense. It didn't take him long to learn the plays and figure out when and where to get the ball to his teammates. Where he had difficulty was in taking ownership of the team and making it his.

"When I came into college, I was 17," Taylor said. "I was real young. I was just nervous all the time."

Youth was only part of why Taylor was reluctant to assert himself.

"I think because he's such a nice, respectable kid in how he handles things. He wants to make sure he's not stepping on anybody's toes," Hobbs said. "I told him, even the seniors, that's what they expect from you. . . . 'You're the director. You're the one that has to orchestrate what happens on the floor as a point guard. You don't play with them. They play with you.' And so it took him a while. He would always defer [to the seniors] in critical moments."

GW started 2-5 this season in part because it struggled to score. The Colonials reached 70 points only once in their first seven games. As the point guard, Taylor felt responsible for the Colonials' lackluster offense.

"In the beginning of the year, since we lost Lasan, I think Tony was kind of pushing himself too much, trying to do everything too much," Ware said.

Taylor admits he felt like it fell on him to put the Colonials on track.

"I think that it's mostly my job to make sure everything is running fluent," he said. "That's not what we were doing, and it was mostly my fault. I tried to correct those things, and good things are happening now."

Hobbs is most pleased with how Taylor has evolved into an extension of himself on the court, and he likes the way Taylor communicates with his teammates. He also trusts his decision-making.

"I can look at him and just sort of tell what he wants to run," Hobbs said. "I love it when he tells me, 'I've got it, coach, I've got it. Sit down, I've got it.' "

GW hasn't won an Atlantic 10 tournament game since the Colonials won the tournament in 2007. After missing the tournament entirely in 2008 and 2009 and losing their first-round game in 2010, the Colonials have plenty of motivation heading into Tuesday's game.

"As soon as I got to the locker room [Saturday] I noted that one of our players said, 'It's a new season,' " Taylor said. "It's definitely a new season. Literally, nothing else matters what happened before this point right now. It's what's going to happen on Tuesday.

"GW has a great history of winning. When we don't win, it's disappointing. It's disappointing for the fans, the university and definitely yourself. We don't ever want to not please the fans or the university. We're going to do everything in our power to play hard."

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