During the first half of its exhibition game late last month, George Washington guard Terry Nolan Jr. delivered a pass from half court to the left corner of the baseline. The ball wound up landing well out of bounds near the doors to the entrance of Smith Center.
After the win against crosstown Catholic, Colonials Coach Maurice Joseph referenced that sequence as an indication of his team’s ongoing process of developing cohesion and communication with a cast of players that includes no scholarship seniors, four newcomers and a pair of transfers.
“We’re not anywhere where we need to be,” said Joseph, who’s starting his third season in Foggy Bottom. “We’ll get there once we continue to get healthy and get our guys synced up a little bit here. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re a ways away. We’re a young team. We’ve got to get better.”
That youth includes seven players who are either sophomores or freshmen. Two of the Colonials’ projected starters are sophomores in Nolan and Justin Mazzulla and part of a small lineup in which Joseph routinely deploys four guards and a forward.
Among those forecast to be in the mix for the regular rotation, no player is taller than 6 feet 9. Freshman forward Marcus Littles, a top prospect at 6-9, has been hurt during the preseason, with his status unclear for the regular season opener Tuesday night against visiting Stony Brook.
Redshirt junior DJ Williams, a 6-7 forward, sat out last season per NCAA rules after transferring from Illinois. Guard Armel Potter, a transfer from Charleston Southern, is another projected starter.
The guard-heavy lineup leaves George Washington (15-18 last season) at a disadvantage in rebounding and has Joseph instructing his players to be mindful of pursuing missed shots collectively.
The Colonials, for instance, were out-rebounded by Catholic, 48-46, and yielded 17 offensive rebounds to their Division III opponent.
“Overall we’ve got to create a better gang mentality on the glass,” Joseph said. “We’re kind of flying around. We’re leaking out to try to get out in transition. We’re not securing rebounds. [Catholic] got 17 offensive rebounds. They’re a team we’re supposed to outmatch athletically, so that’s unacceptable.”
The dearth in size comes one season after the graduation of, among others, forward Yuta Watanabe, a dual threat who led the Colonials in scoring (16.3) and was named Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year.
Also departed are last season’s second- and third-leading scorers, respectively, in Jair Bolden and Patrick Steeves.
Watanabe — who is under a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies — Bolden and Steeves represented 66 percent of George Washington’s scoring.
“All five of us have got to buy into the system,” Nolan said of the starters, “because frankly none of us is of [Watanabe’s] caliber right now. So we’ve just got to buy in, and hopefully we can make up for what we’ve lost.”
There also was significant turnover on the coaching staff, most notably former assistant Carmen Maciariello leaving for Siena, where he previously had served as director of basketball operations.
Gone as well are Joe McDonald, a former standout point guard at GW who was the Colonials’ director of player personnel last season, and Victoria Sun, the former director of basketball operations.
In June, Joseph added Greg Paulus as an assistant. The former Duke guard worked with Louisville last season.
“Again, it’s by committee,” Joseph said. “When you lose a guy like Yuta who gets you 16 a game, you’ve got to replace him by committee. The additions of Armel and DJ will help that. Terry Nolan’s gotten better. He’ll help in that regard.”
Nolan is the only member of GW’s roster recognized with preseason honors in a poll of Atlantic 10 coaches and media. The 6-2 sophomore from Baltimore was voted to the all-defensive team.
The Colonials have been predicted to finish second to last in the 14-team Atlantic 10 after reaching the second round of the conference tournament last season.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Nolan said, “and I know Coach said he doesn’t really pay attention to the rankings and stuff, but he was kind of frustrated about it because in some eyes they viewed us low, and it’s like a slap to our face.
“We do use it as motivation, and we use it like people are doubting us so it’s a chip on our shoulders.”