The plan was for them to go to college together and lead their team to a national championship. Afterward, they would star in the NBA. That was the plan, until the car accident.
Now only Chris Monroe, a senior guard for the George Washington men's basketball team, can dream of playing professionally while his best friend, Ronnie Roman, watches from a wheelchair. Since he was paralyzed from the waist down, Roman has pushed Monroe more than he ever did when the two shared the court together.
"Looking at him, I saw I can lose basketball at any time," Monroe said. "You can be on top one minute then on the bottom the next. Everything can be taken away from you."
Monroe and Roman began playing basketball together when they were growing up in Hyattsville. Although they eventually went to different high schools -- Monroe to Good Counsel, Roman to Dunbar -- they remained back-court partners in summer league games. Roman played point guard, and Monroe was the shooting guard.
"He hasn't caught an alley-oop pass since I got paralyzed," Roman said. "I made him look good."
The accident occurred in July 1997. Roman, a passenger in a car driven by a friend, was thrown from the car when it flipped over on a side street in Laurel. The driver recovered, but Roman lost mobility in his legs. He has limited use of his arms.
Monroe's mother, Barbara, remembered how the accident deeply affected her son and his friends.
"He really was devastated," Barbara Monroe said. "They were all playing summer league together. Ronnie was on the team. All of a sudden, he's not there anymore. . . . That was really an earthshaking thing for all of them to experience."
"It just hurt me real bad," Monroe said. "Since he got hurt, he still loves basketball. I know he is kind of living through me. It's funny. Ronnie has turned into more of a coach since he got hurt. 'You need to be doing this. You need to be doing that.' He's kept me focused, kept me on the right path.
"I talk to him about everything. Other than my mother and my father -- they really have a lot of say -- my conscience is listening to Ronnie."
Roman's presence -- near the end of the Colonials' bench at most home games -- might explain Monroe's penchant for playing with such reckless abandon, showing fearlessness as he muscles his way to the basket. Or it might be something Monroe inherited from his father, a former semipro football player.
At 6 feet 3 and 208 pounds, Monroe has a physique more suited to a tailback than a shooting guard. He was not endowed with natural basketball abilities or blessed with tremendous height. Instead, he has spent countless hours in the gym working on his game and in front of a television studying NBA and college games for moves he can add to his repertoire. Monroe estimates he spends six or seven hours in the gym each day.
His aggressive style and relentless work ethic has catapulted him up the school's career scoring list and earned him praise from opposing coaches. Monroe, who averages 21.4 points per game and is leading the team in scoring for the third straight season, recently scored his 2,000th career point. He has 2,004 points and needs to average 18.6 points over the Colonials' next 12 games to pass the school's all-time scoring leader, Joe Holup, at 2,226 points.
LaSalle Coach Billy Hahn, who was an assistant at Maryland when Monroe was in high school, has long been an admirer of Monroe.
"We were really on the fringe at Maryland whether or not to recruit him," Hahn said. "Hindsight is 20-20. He's such a competitor and a warrior."
Hahn spoke to Monroe for several minutes after George Washington's recent loss to the Explorers.
"I really like the kid," Hahn said. "I love the way he plays. I pulled him aside and told him to enjoy his senior year as much as he could and not get frustrated with the youth that they have. . . . I said 'Chris, I know you want to do great things your senior year, but you're still going to score your points. You've got to keep those young kids buying into what Coach [Karl] Hobbs is saying.' I don't know if it is going to help him or not, but I just wanted to tell him that."
Monroe's ascension on the GW career scoring list has caused him some consternation. He worries how other people -- particularly his teammates -- will view him.
"Say we're in a game and I take a bad shot," Monroe said. "I don't want [the other players] to think, 'Oh, Chris is trying to break that scoring record. He's not worried about wins.' . . .
"I don't want the players to get sidetracked by this. It will do nothing but hurt the team. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It will be a great honor, but I just want to play. Since I've been here, I've only had one [non-losing] season. I'm a winner, and I want to go out a winner."
The best George Washington has finished since Monroe arrived was 15-15, his freshman season. Since then, Monroe has endured back-to-back losing seasons. The losses gnaw at him and, he believes, take away from his legacy.
Nothing would cap off Monroe's senior season better than a trip to the NCAA tournament. If the Colonials (6-10, 0-5 Atlantic 10) fail to make either the NIT or NCAA tournament this year, Monroe would be first George Washington player since the 1989-90 class to play four years and not make at least one trip to the postseason.
"It's real important," Monroe said. "I really want to go to the NCAA tournament because I hear a lot about it. I want a shot. I want to take the school back there."