Interim coach Joseph brings energy to George Washington

GW Athletics

WASHINGTON (AP) Maurice Joseph’s first head coaching job comes with an interim tag and after an awkward summer for George Washington’s basketball program.

The 31-year-old understands his best attributes and is leaning on them as the Colonials’ Nov. 11 season opener against Maryland-Eastern Shore approaches.

“In the grand scheme of things, the major focus has been to bring energy and enthusiasm on a daily basis, which we always have done, and to focus on getting better on a daily basis, which we always have done,” Joseph said Tuesday at the team’s media day.

Former coach Mike Lonergan, who led George Washington to its first NIT title in March and went 97-70 in five seasons, was fired Sept. 17 after the university investigated him and concluded he “had engaged in conduct inconsistent with the university’s values.”

Joseph was named interim coach 10 days later.

Joseph, who played at Michigan State as well as under Lonergan at Vermont, spent the last five years on the Colonials’ staff. That continuity has helped George Washington make the unusually timed transition, as has Joseph’s own positivity.

“That’s his biggest strength,” forward Tyler Cavanaugh said. “He’s young. He has positive energy and he’s just had a rhythm and an upbeat sense to him throughout our practices. If you come in, you’ll see him running through drills with us. The way he’s been able to work with the other assistants has been phenomenal. Everyone’s still engaged.”

That’s important after a wild summer. A Washington Post report in July included accusations of player mistreatment by Lonergan, though he remained as head coach during an August tour of Japan. Then came his ouster less than two months before the start of the season.

“A swirl is definitely a good way to put it,” Cavanaugh said. “It was crazy. There was just a lot up in the air and going from one thing to the next. But I think playing games and preparing really helps. The Japan trip, we got to focus on those practices and build toward the season. The four games there was a step. When we came back, it was out of our control, so we just had to move forward.”

That’s the attitude Joseph is taking with the Colonials, who were picked to finish eighth in the 14-team Atlantic 10’s preseason poll.

“There’s really no time to dwell on emotions or what happened in the past,” Joseph said. “Like Tyler said, some of these teams in our league that were picked ahead of us or below us don’t really care about the coaching change. When the ball goes up, they’re going to try to beat us.”