SEATTLE — Three were born in Africa. The 16 Americans come from 12 states and the District of Columbia. At least a half-dozen arrived on campus with national academic honors. One majors in mathematics and minors in poetry. Another majors in electrical engineering. One has interned for Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and another has been accepted to graduate school to study international finance.
The team's leading scorer, a senior who has drawn the watchful eye of professional scouts, is a psychology major who competed in four sports -- basketball, baseball, tennis and track and field -- in high school.
A set of identical twins from Arlington, Va.--walk-ons who are home crowd favorites -- are the sons of a university dance professor. There's a 7-foot-1 center from New Hampshire who lists water-skiing as a hobby.
There's Yinka, Omo, Kwame, Nimbo, Adama, Sonni and Dirkk.
These are the components that have helped transform George Washington University basketball from a team that didn't have team souvenirs being sold at the Metro station two blocks from its gym, into a 21-game winner that has advanced to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 and whose T-shirts sold out after the first day of the tournament deep in the Arizona desert, 2,500 miles from home.
It's a mysterious and largely unknown team that will play Michigan, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, tonight at the Seattle Kingdome in a regional semifinal. It is interesting that the sport's international godfather, Red Auerbach, matriculated at GW. He would be the school's most famous alum except for the presence a few years later of a soon-to-be first lady named Jacqueline Bouvier.
If anyone outside the I-95 corridor knows of any GW player, it is likely to be 7-1 freshman Yinka Dare from Kabba, Nigeria. With the Colonials in the national tournament, the rest of the country has been given an opportunity to see the development of a player who many believe could be the college game's next great center.
He's not the only GW player to come straight from Africa: There's his roommate, Adama Kah, a 6-9 senior electrical engineering major from Gambia who decided before last season that he wanted to play basketball too. When he plays, usually at the end of games that already have been decided, the Smith Center crowd chants, "Kah! Kah! Kah!" like a flock of hungry crows.
Sophomore guard Omo Moses was born in Tanzania, but he was raised by his American parents in Cambridge, Mass.
"The team's profile reflects that of the rest of the institution, its international mix," Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said. Colonials Coach Mike Jarvis "is selling that -- an international school in an international city."
While Dare is the centerpiece, the players around him, particularly the two other talented freshmen and the three key seniors, have made this a successful season.
There is senior forward Sonni Holland, the team's third-leading scorer and team leader, who says, "I'm 6-7, I'm an undersized four man (power forward) and I know my shot's going to get blocked."
With a repertoire of soft jump hooks, off-balance jumpers and spinning layups, Holland takes advantage of more angles than a pool shark.
Holland -- who worked on Capitol Hill for former NBA great Bradley and is pursuing a career in politics or public relations -- gets help from 6-8 senior Bill Brigham, a East Weymouth, Mass., native who was the second-leading scorer and rebounder as a sophomore at Boston University in 1989-90. But when Jarvis left BU for GW, Brigham followed. He sat out a year as a transfer before starting almost every game in two seasons.
In the NCAA tournament, Jarvis wanted a little more shooting range and quickness in the starting lineup, so he replaced Brigham with 6-6 sophomore Robert "Nimbo" Hammons, whom Jarvis first approached on The Strip in Las Vegas during an AAU tournament. Thirty-four of Hammons's 56 baskets this season were three-pointers. Senior guard Dirkk Surles, the sometimes-spectacular, sometimes-erratic leading scorer, was told by his high school coach in Evansville, Ind., GW alum Joe Mullan, that GW was the best choice. Surles, a psychology major, will end his college career as the school's fourth all-time leading scorer.
He's joined in the starting backcourt by 5-11 junior Alvin Pearsall, a National Honor Society member from Bartow (Fla.) High School near Tampa and Jarvis's first recruit at GW. From Day One he's been the team's steadiest player and in the last month, after hardly shooting at all, is now a serious outside threat.
Three other guards have played significant roles. Vaughn Jones, a 6-5 freshman swingman, had the perfect background to fit into Jarvis's disciplined system: He played for Morgan Wootten at DeMatha. So far at GW, he had been an ideal role player who does almost everything well and makes very few mistakes.