In some ways, a year can make such a difference, as almost anyone associated with George Washington University's basketball team will tell you.

A year ago, the Colonials were expected to show up at, or near, the top of the Atlantic 10 conference in the fourth year of Gerry Gimelstob's reign as coach. There was talk of 20 wins, a league title. A superimposed picture of all-America candidate Mike Brown leaning on the top of the Washington Monument adorned the press guide.

Those monumental expectations contributed to the bad taste in people's mouths when the team finished 14-14. There was a lot of dissension and Gimelstob resigned under pressure in April.

Now, George Washington is led by Coach John Kuester, a former North Carolina player who arrived from Boston University in May. The hopes are more realistic, and the attitude is better, the players say.

Steve Frick is one of seven seniors on this year's team. He knows all about last season's "internal problems," as he describes them.

"Definitely. This team has great chemistry," said Frick. "We have an attitude now where we just come out here every day to get better as a team and individual.

"We can't wait for Saturday," Frick said of the Colonials' 1 p.m. season opener against Montclair State at Smith Center. "We've always been a well-prepared team but this year there's genuine enthusiasm . . . This year we want to see what we can prove to ourselves and others. We think we have potential and want to see how much of it we can get out."

The internal strife of last season did not evaporate with Kuester's arrival, but once he got a chance to speak his piece, order returned.

"It wasn't really immediate," Frick said, " . . . When Coach Kuester was hired in May, it was during final exams and we never got a chance to meet together as a team. Once we did in August, we knew we'd have a good attitude and approach to what we have to do, which is to work hard every day.

"The thing that impressed people most (about Kuester) was the sense that he's gonna respect you if you work hard," Frick said. "I mean he expects you to work hard, but if you do what he wants, he's gonna respect you. When you're treated with respect . . . The biggest thing he emphasized was that we're a team and that we live and die together. He laid down a law: 'You're going to do things together or you're not going to do them.' "

Kuester inherits a team that has plenty of experience, but with a catch. Senior point guard Mike O'Reilly had the highest scoring average of all the returnees, but that was only 7.7. O'Reilly has been hampered by a strained right Achilles' tendon, but he did practice Wednesday. There also is a size problem.

Frick, 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, started at center in last Sunday's 104-91 exhibition victory over an Australian team, and probably will start there Saturday. Senior Dan Williams (6-9, 210) began practicing Monday after missing three weeks because of a sprained ankle.

The only other player taller than 6-6 is freshman Menachem Atlas (6-9), but he needs to gain experience. Atlas, Mordechay (Moti) Daniel and Gilad Simhony, also freshmen, are all from Israel, although Simhony attended high school in the United States. Max Blank, a 6-9 sophomore center, underwent reconstructive knee surgery last spring and has been redshirted this season.

"But there's enough enthusiasm -- these kids work extremely hard -- that we think we can overcome some of that size problem by playing aggressive, smart basketball," said Kuester.

Against the Australians, nine players played at least 12 minutes.

"We want to get people an opportunity to play a lot because we want to play an uptempo type of game," Kuester said."But we're going to go with people, regardless of size, who know exactly what we want done."

Translating what the coach wants into action on the floor usually is the job of the point guard, Kuester's position at North Carolina.

"He's given us a lot more responsiblity," said sophomore Joe Dooley, who started in O'Reilly's place against the Australians, finishing with 11 points and five assists in 24 minutes. "We call more plays, more defense, trying to set things up and see what he wants. We have to get people in the right place. And it's our fault if they're not there."