Roselee Brown, the mother of George Washington University's star basketball center, sat at a table in the stadium club here today, watching her son Mike take center stage at the Atlantic 10 Conference's annual media day.
"It's a big change," she said, as Mike Brown, 6 feet 10 and 260 pounds, gave yet another interview. Not only was the scene different for Brown, but for the Colonials as a whole.
Four years ago, before Coach Gerry Gimelstob's first season, GW was a unanimous choice in the coaches' poll to finish last. Today, the Colonials drew three first-place votes and were rated second, one point behind Temple.
Rutgers guard John Battle, like Brown a unanimous preseason all-conference selection, went to high school only a few miles from GW, at McKinley Tech in Washington. But, to him, in those days GW "was in another world. I didn't even think about being recruited by GW. Now I would be pleased to go to GW if . . . I was a senior in high school."
GW is one of four schools that received at least one first-place vote. The consensus of coaches today was that at least six schools are capable of winning the regular season or the conference tournament.
"Any time you're in a favorite's position, there's a little more pressure on you," Rutgers Coach Tom Young said. "They've never been there. But I think they deserve it. If you've got the big guy in the middle as a senior, if you're not going to do it then, you're not going to do it. And he's the most dominant player in the league."
Brown, a native of nearby Newark, relishes the opportunity. He was among the first players to arrive this morning, a far cry from the shy recruit Gimelstob signed before he even hired an assistant coach.
"This is what I've been waiting for," Brown said, between television interviews. "There's no pressure at all. It's time to reap the glory . . . It's nice (to be a favorite), but you can't let it get out of hand. You can't believe you are the favorite all the time, because then you tend to relax a little, and you can't have that.
Gimelstob doesn't talk about winning or losing games, Brown said. "What we talk about is executing offensively and defensively, playing hard all the time and playing unselfishly. Then the wins and losses will take care of themselves."
After many growing pains and missteps, the Atlantic 10 has much more talent than it has reputation. Victories by Temple over St. John's and West Virginia over Oregon State in last season's NCAA tournament, though, did bolster that reputation.
"We're like the best-kept secret in basketball," said Temple center Granger Hall, another preseason all-conference selection.
Commissioner Charlie Theokas, who has been on the job eight weeks, has restructured and added personnel in the league office here. But the conference, which competes with the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference for players, has no television package to match those leagues.
Still, Temple Coach John Chaney called the Atlantic 10 the strongest 10-team conference in the country. West Virginia Coach Gale Catlett said, "There aren't any automatic two wins (over any conference rival) any more."