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This George is getting attention in D.C. too

They may lack Georgetown's rep or George Mason's Cinderella charm, but GW's Colonials have game.

December 09, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

The stray pieces of mail arrive from time to time on the campus of George Washington University.

They read, "Georgetown."

Or "George Mason."

Karl Hobbs, coach at the school known around Washington, D.C., simply as "GW," made a joke of it as he prepared his team to play USC today in the Wooden Classic, teasing that the game contract read "Georgetown" when it arrived in his office.

"We scratched out the 'town' and put 'Washington' and sent it back," he said. "That's why we're here."

In a city where Georgetown is the glamour program and George Mason is the upstart darling after its Final Four run, George Washington probably was the most popular George in town for a while last season -- including the fellow who lives down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Colonials were ranked as high as No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and went 27-2 before losing to Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Then they went home and watched George Mason, the unheralded suburban school in nearby Fairfax, Va., steal the spotlight and make a mind-bending run to the Final Four, upsetting mighty Connecticut in the Washington Regional final.

A Nebraska man who in a national competition was one of the few to correctly pick Mason to reach the Final Four later confessed how he did it: He had the team confused with George Washington.

That was no particular comfort to the GW players.

"You know, it was a feeling like, 'That could have been us,' " said guard Carl Elliott, the lone returning starter for the Colonials. "But a team from our area making it that far, it was a good thing to see."

Hobbs agreed, for the most part.

"They beat UConn, my alma mater. Other than that, I felt good for them," said Hobbs, coach of the Colonials since 2001 but an assistant at Connecticut when the Huskies won the 1999 NCAA championship.

Hobbs certainly doesn't have anything against George Mason these days. His daughter RaShauna is a freshman point guard at Mason, and he is able to drive over to watch her play.

"I'm part of the Mason family now," he said.

His 6-1 GW team isn't as good as last season's after losing four starters, including Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the 6-foot-9 star whose knee injury dimmed the Colonials' chances even though he was able to return for the NCAA tournament.

"Our goal that year, we felt we were going to have a chance to go to the Final Four. We really felt that way, honestly," Hobbs said. "Once Pops got hurt ... I just felt our chances would have been better had he not gone down."

Even so, the Colonials' early-season upset of Maryland, their 18-game winning streak and the one-loss record they carried into March gave them new prominence, bringing major-newspaper coverage and name recognition with high school players.

"It allowed us to expand our recruiting base, call kids from around the country, and they were familiar with our team," Hobbs said. "We signed a player from Oklahoma, Xavier Alexander. We could never have gone to Oklahoma City to recruit a player like that before."

GW players run into Georgetown players at the movies from time to time, and GW and George Mason butt heads occasionally on the recruiting trail. But for the most part, they go their own ways.

"I think the three schools are just so different," Hobbs said. "We're a city school that's in the Atlantic 10. Georgetown, they're in the Big East. They're more of a national power that has won a national championship. Then you have Mason, which is not far away, but they're more suburban."

Regis Koundjia, a forward from the Central African Republic who transferred from Louisiana State, said he was never confused about the name George Washington. "Everybody knows that in my country." But he was befuddled by the name of the school's neighborhood, Foggy Bottom, a low-lying area not far from the White House and the Potomac River.

"The Metro stop is Foggy Bottom," he said. "I said, 'What is that?' "

At home in Washington, hardly anybody is tripped up by GW and the other Georges. But after their visit to California, the Colonials will head home, encountering travelers who never quite seem to understand who they are.

"It's funny sometimes," Elliott said. "We'll walk through the airport wearing things that say 'GW,' and people will say, 'Oh, Georgetown.'

"I think, 'Georgetown? This says GW.' "

*

robyn.norwood@latimes.com

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