John Kuester took over as George Washington University basketball coach yesterday, with an agreement for a five-year contract and a base salary in the $45,000-to-$50,000 range. He predicted the possibility of "amazing growth" in the program if he can cultivate resources available to him.
Those resources, Kuester said, include more emphasis on recruiting the immediate Washington area and making inroads in gaining support from 48,000 GW alumni who live in this area. Kuester also announced that Mike Cohen, the top assistant under Gerry Gimelstob, who resigned April 2, would remain as associate coach, a move greeted by loud applause from GW players and staff at a press conference in the Smith Center.
Rodney Johnson, an assistant to Kuester at Boston University, will become the other full-time assistant if he doesn't replace Kuester at BU, the new coach said.
Kuester said he chose to leave Boston University, where he had a 31-28 record in two seasons, because he will be closer to his home town of Richmond, because the Washington area is a hotbed for high-school talent and because basketball is the No. 1 sport at GW (unlike BU, where it was third behind hockey and football).
"What's nice to know at GW," Kuester said, "is that basketball is important in people's minds."
Of recruiting, Kuester said, "Within a 100-, 150-mile radius, you're talking about some of the best basketball that is played in this country . . . . I've been fortunate when I was in Boston of doing a fairly good job of communicating very well with the coaches in the Washington area . . . . The young men who are at the St. John's, the DeMathas, the Flint Hills, all the area schools that have done extremely well (playing against) the Dunbars.
"You're talking about a wealth of talent. Maybe we're not going to get their top player. But we're going to be in there with a lot of good players on those teams because they're going to see the value of staying in D.C . . . . With those pluses and people starting to support a program that I think is growing, I think we'll be in good shape."
Kuester cited a player such as Steve Hood, a 6-foot-6 forward at DeMatha, as the type he is talking about. "He is an excellent basketball player," he said. "You want to go after the best, but you want to go after many good ones who don't even have Steve's name. We got kids at Boston University who were highly rated this past year. There's no reason we can't do it at GW. We're going to get lucky one year and get that one player it'll take for people to notice us."
Although GW is hard pressed to get exposure in this market competing with Georgetown and Maryland, Kuester sees room for improvement. "Maybe 10 years ago, Georgetown didn't have the exposure that it has today," he said. "That's what you're looking for in a long-range goal -- to see what George Washington can do. I'm just so impressed with the resources that it has here, and if you cultivate those resources, there's amazing growth that can be made at George Washington."
By retaining Cohen, a friend whom he tried to bring to BU as his top assistant two years ago, Kuester diffused one potential problem. GW players had supported Cohen as Gimelstob's replacement, and forward Max Blank and guard Joe Dooley, two of the Colonials' top recruits a year ago, were said to be strongly considering a transfer if Cohen didn't get the job. Both said yesterday they likely would remain at GW.
Afterward, guard Mike O'Reilly, who will be one of seven seniors on Kuester's first GW team, said: "Everything worked out best. We got a good coach in John Kuester, a quality person and a coach who has a good reputation. And we also have Coach Cohen, who's still here. It makes me very happy."
Kuester, who played guard under Dean Smith at North Carolina and three years in the NBA, has a drastically different personality than Gimelstob, a demanding, sometimes abrasive coach who in four years brought a dormant program to the threshold of national prominence.
"Adjusting to Kuester? It won't be very tough," O'Reilly said. "All seven seniors either started or played a lot of minutes the last two years. So that's the nucleus of the team. His style of play will fit our squad well, because we're not going to be very big and we have a lot of quickness. He likes to change up defenses and pressure. I think we'll fit the mold pretty well.
"We'll (also) adjust to Coach Kuester's style. What I see of him, what I know of him, he's very much like Coach Cohen -- laid back. I don't think we'll have a hard time adjusting to that type of coach's style. It'll be comforting."
Some players, including Blank and Dooley, met with Kuester after the press conference. Blank said he will undergo surgery May 17 in Philadelphia to reconstruct his right knee. It was injured in an all-star game a year ago and he played in only seven games last season, averaging 2.3 points.
After that meeting, the mood was light and Cohen was congratulating Blank, a Russian immigrant, on his 2.6 grade-point average. "Who would have thought," Cohen said, "that in your freshman year of college, your grade-point average would be higher than your scoring average?"