(Image courtesy of @GW_MBB)
FOGGY BOTTOM – George Washington will look quite different after a lively offseason full of changes to the program. They added six transfers and recruits, graduated two starters from last season’s team, lost five players to the transfer portal, and even adopted a new moniker.
Despite all of the roster turnover, the most significant moment of the offseason was the confirmation that Atlantic 10 First Team senior guard James Bishop would be returning to GW for his fifth and final season of collegiate eligibility.
— GW Men's Basketball (@GW_MBB) April 10, 2023
Last season, Bishop led the A-10 with 21.6 points, was fourth with 5.2 assists, grabbed 2.3 rebounds, and shot 42.9% from the field while attempting a whopping 17.5 field goals per game.
“For me, it’s going from an all conference player to a winning player,” head coach Chris Caputo said when asked about his expectations for Bishop going into the season. “A guy who leaves a legacy not only as a potential Player of the Year, but also as the guy who helped get GW after six or seven years back to the top of the Atlantic 10.”
Bishop, along with reigning A-10 Rookie of the Year redshirt sophomore guard Maximus Edwards, will look to form one of the top duos in the conference.
“So much of being good in college basketball is having good guards, with [Bishop] and [Edwards], we feel like we have the best guards in the league,” Caputo said. “That gives us some stability in the destabilized environment of college basketball.”
For GW to reach their full potential, Edwards will need to add more levels to his game in order to fill former guard Brendan Adams’ role as secondary scorer.
“[Edwards] has had as great a summer as anyone,” Caputo said. “He’s physically in the best shape of his life.”
Edwards has specifically been working on his finishing at the rim, conditioning, and playing more efficiently on defense. The coaching staff was very impressed by his improvement throughout last season, and is confident that Edwards will make the necessary leaps this offseason.
Bishop and Edwards will be surrounded by a largely new and unproven cast of teammates. They include Oklahoma transfer and sophomore guard Benny Schröder, Auburn transfer and graduate center Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola, Virginia Tech transfer and redshirt freshman forward Darren Buchanan, Evansville transfer and graduate forward Antoine Smith Jr., Princeton transfer and redshirt freshman wing Garrett Johnson, freshman forward Zamoku Weluche-Ume, and freshman guards Jacoi Hutchinson, Trey Autry, and Christian Jones.
Schröder did not get a lot of playing time last year at Oklahoma. He came into the season dealing with an ankle injury, then had to miss additional time due to COVID. However, he has extensive international experience that makes him one of the most intriguing players in the country.
Earlier this summer, Schröder starred for Germany in the U20 A Division European Championships. He averaged 15.6 points, 2.3 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while leading Germany to a sixth place finish. He also impressed in the 2021 FIBA U18 European Challengers, averaging 16.6 points, 2.4 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 40.0% from three.
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“There’s no chance anyone outside the Power Five gets him coming off the U18s,” Caputo said.
Caputo said that he hopes that Schröder can play a similar role that Adams had last year–a secondary ball handler who can take some of the playmaking pressure off of Bishop. At 6-7, Schröder will be a mismatch nightmare for opposing guards.
Akingbola, standing at 6-10 with a 7-5 wingspan, will be manning the post for GW. Similarly to Schröder, Akingbola did not get a ton of playing time at his previous school. However, Caputo and the rest of the coaching staff found a lot of value in his work backing up NBA talent like Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith Jr.
Beyond Dayton center DaRon Holmes, the center position in the A-10 this season is relatively thin. Akingbola has the potential to be one of the top defensive centers, if not top all-around centers, in the conference.
Eligibility is still a question mark for Akingbola. After he committed to GW, Akingbola told A10Talk that he was in the process of pursuing a medical redshirt for last season, which would give him two years of eligibility at GW. Caputo confirmed that the process is still ongoing and that there have been no updates.
Buchanan is another newcomer who should be in line for major minutes. GW recruited Buchanan, the 2022 D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year, heavily out of high school before he ultimately chose Virginia Tech. Now, Buchanan has found his way back to D.C. after he redshirted his freshman season.
Caputo described Buchanan as a “very physical, strong, multidimensional frontcourt player.” Caputo also compared him to Edwards, believing that he will be able to make a significant impact in his first season after redshirting at a power five school.
Most of Buchanan’s value will initially come on the defensive end. At 6-7, 235, Buchanan is big enough to go up against A-10 bigs, but athletic enough to stay in front of smaller guards.
“We’ve tried to talk to him about being a Draymond Green type,” Caputo said. “Someone who can defend a lot of different positions, play inside, play outside, be a matchup problem, and be a rebounder on both ends.”
Johnson is potentially the biggest enigma in this group of relative unknowns. He has been out of basketball for the past two years after dealing with a non-basketball related health issue, but his combination of size at 6-8, 215, shooting, ball handling, and athleticism is very promising. Right now, the priority with Johnson is him feeling completely comfortable on the court.
“He’s 100% in terms of his ability to compete every day,” Caputo said after being asked if Johnson is 100% healthy. “For him, it will be more about the rhythm of playing five on five.”
Johnson has four years of eligibility. Even if it takes him some time to get back into the swing of things on the court, his potential down the road is still something to be very excited about.
Looking at the true freshman who will be joining the program, Hutchinson and Weluche-Ume will have the most opportunity for playing time. Hutchinson comes to GW as GW’s highest rated recruit since 2000. With Bishop operating more and more off the ball, Hutchinson looks to be the only true point guard on the roster. Regardless of whether or not he starts, Hutchinson will get plenty of opportunity to play this season.
Weluche-Ume committed to GW in May after competing with the London Lions, the top team in the British Basketball League. Weluche-Ume also represented the United Kingdom in the U20 B Division European Championships this summer. He averaged 9.7 points, 1.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 33.3% from three, helping the U.K. to an eighth place finish.
— Raise High Nation (@raisehighnation) July 8, 2023
“I had a couple of NBA scouts speak very highly of [Weluche-Ume,]” Caputo said.
Without a true backup center on the roster, Weluche-Ume should have an opportunity to earn playing time and give GW the ability to put five three point shooters on the court at once.
Last season, Caputo was often hampered by GW’s lack of depth, especially a lack of shooters beyond Bishop, Adams, and Edwards. This offseason, Caputo made a point of addressing that. One of the ways he did that was by bringing in Smith Jr., who has shot 36.1% and 44.4% from three the past two seasons.
“We’re constantly thinking about surrounding [Bishop] with more shooting,” Caputo said. “[Smith Jr.] has a big sample size of shooting… excited about bringing that to the frontcourt.”
Someone else who will be able to provide shooting is redshirt junior Keegan Harvey. Harvey was working his way into the rotation last season, but was shut down due to a non-basketball related health issue. This summer, Harvey has worked on bulking up. He recently benched 260 pounds, which the coaching staff was thrilled with.
Another wrinkle into this offseason that Caputo and the rest of the coaching staff had to navigate was NIL. GW developed their own NIL collective, “Friends of George,” and has been working on becoming more active in that space.
“Our collective is very competitive as it relates to our competitors,” Caputo said. “The beauty of GW is that we have a passionate fan base, an alumni base that is very successful, and people who really see the value in what a really good basketball team can bring to a university.”
Caputo then clarified that the schools he feels that GW is on a similar level to in terms of NIL are other schools in the A-10 and schools without football that are competing to be in the NCAA Tournament.
Caputo also acknowledged that there are some struggles with NIL, including some instances of recruits and transfers considering other schools because of the opportunity to earn more money through NIL.
“We are running into situations where we feel like guys might be getting more than they’re worth, or more than our collective is willing to pay,” Caputo said. “[NIL] really is not the reason why you should come to GW. There are a million other reasons why. Yet, you also want to be in a space where you can tell those student-athletes that you have a collective.”
The Revolutionaries will open their season on Nov. 6 at home against Stonehill. Before then, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered about this team. But, there is growing optimism that this group will be able to make some noise in the A-10 and help put GW back on the map.