Guard's comfort level growing as Colonials thrive

Describing his improvement at point guard, George Washington freshman Joe McDonald said the magic words.

My team.

"I feel a lot more comfortable, just with the confidence coach has given me, confidence in myself, confidence from my teammates," McDonald said. "I just feel a lot better and able to run my team."

Up next
La Salle at George Washington
When » Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where » Smith Center
Radio » 1500 AM

As McDonald struggled through the first two months of his debut season, there was reason to wonder how long it would be his team. In 13 nonconference games, McDonald had fewer assists (35) than turnovers (39).

But in six games against better competition in the Atlantic 10, McDonald has been a different player. With 30 assists to eight turnovers, McDonald ranks second in assist-turnover ratio in A-10 games, an unthinkable notion a month ago when the Landon grad was tentative and pressure-sensitive.

As a result, George Washington (10-9, 4-2) is off to a surprising start in the league. With four freshmen in the starting lineup, the Colonials have beaten defending champion St. Bonaventure, won road games at Massachusetts and Rhode Island and thrashed formidable Charlotte. When GW takes on La Salle (14-6, 4-3), another A-10 upstart, on Saturday, it is a chance for the Colonials to continue their sudden ascent.

"It's a great time to make a statement, a real statement to the whole league that we are here and we can win games," freshman forward Patricio Garino said.

For McDonald, taking over the point guard job was a daunting task on a team with four senior holdovers. Playing close to his Lorton home also ratcheted up the attention and pressure. Meshing with four other starters who had never played with each other made for a delicate chemistry experiment, especially considering two were freshmen from other continents.

But sharing living quarters with Garino, who is from Argentina; forward Kevin Larsen, who is from Denmark; and freshman guard Kethan Savage (Episcopal) has helped McDonald get to know his classmates.

"Whether we win or lose, we always eventually find that time when we talk about the game," McDonald said. "That helps a lot."

The turning point for McDonald came in the A-10 opener against St. Bonaventure. With Savage, a former high school rival and AAU teammate, in the starting lineup for the first time, the offense suddenly functioned smoothly.

Even as a starter, Savage doesn't get as much playing time because of senior guards Lasan Kromah and Bryan Bynes. But GW now has a consistent backcourt rotation, aiding on-court cohesion. As a backup to McDonald, Bynes' play also has improved. In conference games he has 14 assists to six turnovers.

"We're just getting comfortable with each other, knowing each other's game," Bynes said. "It took a while. It was an adjustment. But now it's a nice little offense we're running."

Playing for GW coach Mike Lonergan, a former point guard at Catholic University, is both a blessing and a curse. While he places more demands on them, they also learn to play the point more thoroughly.

So far, so good for McDonald.

"It's good to have a point guard like that. It's not about scoring points or any individual accolades. He's all about winning," Lonergan said. "I think Joe kind of understands exactly what I want out there. And in time, he'll definitely be an extension of myself and the coaching staff out on the floor."