WASHINGTON – The terms "mid-major" and "major" are arbitrary. There exists no bureaucracy that formally hands them out. There's no application that George Washington coach Mike Lonergan can submit to get the label changed for his school.
So he just has to say it a lot, and hope it starts to stick.
"It's hard with recruiting, too," Lonergan said. "I tell kids all the time, 'Hey, we're in a high-major league.'"
Last season, the Colonials arguably were major, both nationally and locally. They won 24 games in an Atlantic 10 conference that sent six teams to the NCAA tournament. They were belle of the ball in the recruit-heavy Washington, D.C., region in a year in which the traditional "major" schools — Maryland and Georgetown — were trending downward.
"Last year was our year, things worked out right, those two teams didn't have a great year," Lonergan said. "But we've got to take advantage of that. We got great publicity from media. We got great support here at GW, but nothing is automatic. We want to stay up there, and not with some of the low-majors and mid-majors in the area."
This season, if anything, GW should be even better.
The talented quartet of freshman that Lonergan lured to Foggy Bottom two years ago are now juniors — with 199 starts among them. Kethan Savage, Joe McDonald, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen will be joined by senior John Kopriva in a starting lineup that needs to replace the top two leading scorers from last season, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood.
"We had a good year last year," McDonald said. "But it would mean almost nothing if we come around this year and don't do anything."
Here are things to watch during the upcoming season in GW's quest for "major" recognition:
SECOND BANANA: If there is a major program right now in the A-10, it's Virginia Commonwealth — the unanimous choice to win the conference in the preseason media and coaches' poll. But GW was picked second. "I was surprised we were picked second," Lonergan said. "I put us a little lower than that. But it beats the alternative, I guess. I told our players we're not close to being the second best team in this conference, but we do have the potential to get there."
TITANTIC TILTS: A list of big games on the Colonials' schedule, therefore, would have to include the pair vs. VCU — at Richmond on Jan. 27 and at the Smith Center on Feb. 14. The early nonconference biggie is at Virginia on Nov. 21, where an upset could very well be enough to propel GW into the Top 25.
BILL OF HEALTH: Three of the four starting juniors had significant injuries as sophomores, making GW's resurgence last season all the more remarkable. Now, everyone's healthy: Savage has recovered from his broken foot, McDonald's nagging hip is fine after offseason surgery, and Garino's broken finger has long since healed. Larsen was the lucky one in 2013-14, managing to get through the season relatively unscathed.
FRESHMAN 5: Lonergan recruited an entire lineup of freshmen, giving him the rare opportunity to build and rebuild at the same time. Darian Bryant and Yuta Watanbe are the early names to watch coming off the bench. "This is not the class we had two years ago," Lonergan said. "A lot of people are trying to compare it. Right now, it's not even close. The good news is right now these guys are going to have some time to develop."
PLANE FACTS: Lonergan said another sign of the A-10's emergence is that some of the conference's coaches are now fly in private jets to recruit. GW hasn't yet reached that level. "The good thing," Lonergan said, "is we're close to a lot of airports."
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