When George Washington President Steven Knapp introduced new men’s basketball Coach Mike Lonergan at a news conference on Monday, he spoke about Lonergan’s deep connection to the Washington region.
“He really knows our community,” Knapp said.
And as Lonergan made clear during his speech, the 45-year-old Bowie native really knows Washington basketball and GW basketball in particular.
Lonergan name-dropped a who’s who of area and Colonials basketball greats: Jack Bruen, his former coach at Catholic; Gary Williams, his former boss at Maryland; Morgan Wootten, the former DeMatha coach; Derrick Lewis, his former teammate at Carroll High; GW graduate and NBA coaching legend Red Auerbach; former GW coaches Gerry Gimelstob and Mike Jarvis; and former GW players Mike Brey, Mike Brown, Shawnta Rogers, Vaughn Jones and Chris Monroe.
Except for the past six years he spent as coach at the University of Vermont, Lonergan has spent his whole life in this area. The former Catholic University point guard and head coach replaces Karl Hobbs, who was let go on April 25.
“I know I’m biased, but as a former D.C. high school player, P.G. County product, I really believe this is a basketball hotbed, maybe one of the best basketball areas in the entire country,” Lonergan said. Lonergan recalled taking the Metro to Foggy Bottom to watch Gimelstob’s Colonials play when he was in college, sitting in the stands and being in awe of Auerbach.
“I’ve always talked about this being my dream job,” he said. “GW has always been special to me.”
Dressed in a dark suit with a blue-and-gold-striped tie and a GW pin in his suit jacket lapel, Lonergan used a pair of crutches to walk onto the Smith Center court. Three weeks ago, he had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee — his “stomping foot,” the one he drives into the court to get his players’ attention.
In speaking of the goals he has for GW, Lonergan stressed increasing attendance at Smith Center, which has dropped from 3,403 fans per game four years ago to 1,788 this past season; competing for the postseason; and recruiting academically and athletically successful players.
“First, I’d like to gain the support of the students, faculty and staff at George Washington, the local alumni and the local community so we can increase the fan attendance,” he said. “I want to try to assemble a great coaching staff that will be tireless in our efforts to build a consistent winner on the court and also serve as role models for our student athletes. We want to compete for Atlantic 10 championships and postseason tournaments. We’re going to recruit high-quality student-athletes that will represent George Washington University in a first-class manner both on and off the court. We’re going to recruit locally, nationally and internationally.”
Three players have signed with GW for the upcoming season, and Lonergan said he has reached out to all of them.
“We hope they all come to GW still, but you just don’t know,” Lonergan said. “I guess time will tell. . . . We want guys who want to be here.”
Lonergan’s teams have a reputation of playing good defense, and he doesn’t expect that to change at GW.
“I believe rebounding and defense win championships,” he said. “I’d like to play up-tempo. I’d like to take advantage of the three-point line. . . . I’d like to press.” Several GW players sat in the front row of seats at the news conference. They seemed pleased with what their new coach had to say.
“I think one thing that stood out when he met with us the day he was hired he knew all of us individually,” Aaron Ware said. “He knew where we were from. He knew what AAU team we played for. . . . I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play for him.”
Lasan Kromah, who missed last season with a foot injury, said that although he has not been fully cleared, his foot is doing much better. He, too, liked what he heard.
“It all sounds good, playing up-tempo like he said,” Kromah said.
Hajj Turner, who is an assistant coach at Vermont, was at the news conference and is expected to join Lonergan’s staff. Turner’s sister, Mandisa, played for the GW women’s basketball team.
Lonergan’s family, including his wife Maggie, his father Jack and his sisters, were in attendance.
“This opportunity is really a dream come true for Mike,” Maggie Lonergan said.
The only time Lonergan became choked with emotion was when he spoke of his late mother, Maureen, a former coach and athletic director at Elizabeth Seton High.
“I’m happy to be home,” Lonergan said, before telling everyone to buy season tickets and ending with a chant of “Let’s go, Colonials!”