Maurice Creek, Varun Ram

The transfers get attention, but win over VCU solidified Mike Lonergan’s foundation at George Washington

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — George Washington has been the face of all that is good — and bad — when it comes to transfers in college basketball. They lost two rising seniors as graduate transfers during the offseason, bringing in Indiana castoff Maurice Creek to join former Villanova Wildcat Isaiah Armwood as the face of a team hoping to draw some of the city’s attention down in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

It worked.

Isaiah Armwood’s photo is plastered on the walls of the metro stop on campus. Creek entered Tuesday night averaging a team-high 14.8 points, which included a 25-point performance and a game-winning shot as the Colonials knocked off Maryland at the Verizon Center — the home of the Washington Wizards — back in December.

But on Tuesday night, when the Smith Center hosted its most important Atlantic 10 game in recent memory, it wasn’t head coach Mike Lonergan’s pair of senior transfers that played the role of hero. It was Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino, two sophomores that Lonergan recruited from Denmark and Argentina, respectively, that shined the brightest. Larsen scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the first half while Garino finished with 25 points, seven boards and three steals off the bench as the Colonials knocked off Atlantic 10 favorite VCU, 76-66.

VCU’s known for their pressure defensively, and the Colonials won despite turning the ball over 21 times. That’s what happens when you score 1.41 PPP when you actually get a shot off.

“I told them before the game, some coaching friends of mine always say, ‘Next play, next play,'” Lonergan said. “I’m not really good at that. I told them they’re going to have to block me out. I’ll be going crazy that they turned the ball over and they’re going to have to just move on.”

It was the second straight game that Larsen dominated on the block, as he set a career-high against Rhode Island with 17 points on Saturday, but it’s the emergence of Garino that could end up being the difference-maker for GW this season. An athletic, 6-foot-6 wing, Garino was changed the game in the second half, scoring 18 points and notching all three of his steals in the final 20 minutes. He was able to get behind VCU’s press for a number of easy buckets, helping take the pressure off of a GW back court that got dangerously close to being overwhelmed by VCU’s ‘Havoc’ defense.

As good as he was in the open floor, Garino’s bigger impact came on the defensive end. “He was an absolute sparkplug,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said after the game, and that term could not encapsulate his effect on the game any better. GW likes to switch defenses, and one of the tricks that Lonergan keeps in his back pocket is a 1-3-1 zone where he plays Garino at the top. His length and athleticism was so disruptive for VCU as he created a handful of turnovers and bad possessions simply by being a presence on the floor.

“He’s great defensively,” Lonergan said, but Garino seemed to have a sense of the moment on Tuesday night. When GW needed a play made, he made it. When they needed points, he found a way to score. Timing doesn’t show up in a box score, but Garino had plenty of it on Tuesday. “He’s a good shooter we’re trying to make a great shooter,” Lonergan said. “He broke his finger and has had some setbacks, so it was really special to see him hit some threes when we needed threes.”

“I’ve always felt that when he gets that jumper going, he can be a pro.”

Perhaps what is most impressive about GW’s 14-3 record this season is that Garino has been in and out of the lineup as he dealt with the finger injury, one that was aggravated during a practice on the team’s trip to California for the Wooden Legacy. It was a blessing in disguise, however, as it allowed Kethan Savage a chance to emerge into the player that he is today. If we’re talking about GW’s sophomore class, he may the most important name to mention.

Savage has emerged as GW’s second-leading scorer this season, averaging 13.8 points in 26.8 minutes a season after averaging just 3.1 points in a limited role off the bench. Garino’s absence hurt the Colonials in the short term, but it may have actually been a blessing in disguise.

“Kethan has been able to play through a lot of mistakes,” Lonergan said. “He worked hard in the offseaosn, improved his game. He’s playing to his strengths, and his strengths are slashing and getting to the rim. He’s really difficult to guard.”

This is what Mike Lonergan envisioned when he made the decision to take over a struggling George Washington program back in the spring of 2011.

The Smith Center packed with 4,874 fans with a national television audience tuning in to watch the Colonials knock off a league power and a national name in convincing fashion.

GW still has plenty of work to do — like, for example, winning a game on the road — but with neutral court wins over Creighton and Maryland already on their resume, GW has played their way into contention for an at-large bid.

Lonergan isn’t looking that far ahead, however.

“We’re trying to earn respect,” he said.

Well, they got it.

Jennings becomes seventh player to transfer from Kentucky

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell watches his team during the team's regional semifinal in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Washington in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 25, 2016. Washington won 85-72. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell has announced that sophomore forward Alexis Jennings will transfer, the seventh Wildcat to leave the program since last fall.

Jennings’ departure comes a week after Mitchell publicly addressed the mass exodus of players and assistant coaches and stressed the need for building stability. Jennings figured to be part of that process and the coach said in a release Wednesday night that “it saddens us that Alexis did not see a path for her at Kentucky. … She felt it was in her best interest to finish her career elsewhere and we owe her that opportunity.”

The 6-foot-2 Jennings started 18 of 33 games last season and averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.