George Washington basketball coach Mike Lonergan wanted Joe McDonald so badly that he often sat in the stands at the Landon School with assistant coach Kevin Sutton, shivering in the cold, watching him practice with his football team.

"My mom always said to make sure to go where I was needed but also wanted," McDonald said. "They made it clear they wanted me to be their point guard."

On Saturday, when George Washington opens at home against Youngstown State, McDonald will be in a starting lineup that could include four freshmen along with Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood -- players Lonergan targeted and recruited to fit his style. Lonergan said Thursday it feels like his rookie season in Foggy Bottom instead of Year 2.

With the recent struggles and the reputation of the program, Lonergan had a difficult job selling George Washington. Losing and spending so much time on recruiting made for a trying first season as the Colonials went 10-21.

"I take the losses very hard. It was probably the worst year of my life professionally by far," Lonergan said. "Every night I went recruiting, and I just never want to be in a situation like that again. It's one thing to lose, but I never saw the light at the end of the tunnel."

The light began to show on a summer trip to Italy when the newcomers earned their stripes and bonded with the holdovers.

"Our freshmen were great in Italy," Lonergan said. "They weren't just handed those spots. They were earned."

- Kevin Dunleavy