George Washington won 13 games last season after a roster filled with freshmen endured growing pains in the Atlantic 10 throughout the 2012-13 season. But Mike Lonergan’s program has grown. Rapidly. This season, the Colonials are 15-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play, with victories over VCU, Maryland and Creighton. Plus, they’re 42nd in the BPI and 21st in the RPI. Lonergan recently spoke with ESPN.com about this season’s success, the transfer who has made an immediate impact and the women in his life who’ve enhanced his career.
ESPN: Was there something you saw in the offseason that made you believe this team was ripe for a turnaround?
Lonergan: Last year, we started four freshmen, [and then-junior] Isaiah Armwood. We were fairly young. We lost seven games down at the wire. They were all good teams. So I just felt like if we get half those wins, we’d have a winning record. I didn’t know we’d get off to this kind of start, that’s for sure. But we lacked an outside shooter, a guy that could score with the game on the line. [Indiana transfer] Maurice Creek kind of gave us that guy. And that opened some things up for some other guys. ... And our freshmen are now sophomores, they’ve gotten better. I really think it’s just the years of experience and one player who just addressed a bunch of our weaknesses.
ESPN: What else did Creek add to the program?
Lonergan: You look at a game like Maryland this year. We’re up 14 [points] with five minutes left. Fouled out Dez Wells. Coach [Mark] Turgeon got a technical, started pressing and we started falling apart. It kind of reminded me of last year. And Maryland came all the way back and tied it. So we call timeout, probably like 10 seconds left or whatever it was. Maurice said, "Give me the ball." He wanted the ball. And we didn’t have anybody that really wanted the ball or could really do anything last year at the end of the game, and he made a jump shot. It gave our team confidence that they had a teammate we could put the ball in his hands at the end of the game and he would make a shot. That just gave all our team confidence that, "Hey, we can win close games."
ESPN: I read that your mom (Maureen Lonergan, former coach and athletic director at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Md., who died of breast cancer in 1995) was a successful prep coach in Maryland. How did she influence you?
Lonergan: My mom was actually a jock before it was sort of fashionable for women to be jocks. She was my coach when I was like 8, 9, 10 years old. She coached my boys' club basketball teams. ... My mom didn’t have a college degree or anything, so she always said she was ahead of her time. She could beat me in one-on-one until I was in eighth grade. She was really a good athlete. ... My mom was one of the reasons I got into coaching. There are a lot of coaches that had an impact on me, but my mom was my first coach. And that was kind of special that I was really close to her and she was a heck of a coach. My wife (Maggie Lonergan, former women’s basketball coach at Division III Catholic University in Washington, D.C.) is kind of a lot like my mom. She was a college coach. ... My family is all sports. We love basketball, probably too much.
ESPN: I’m just imagining you all at the kitchen table and there are diagrams and playbooks all over the place. Is that how it is?
Lonergan: We watch a lot of film. I’ve never told anybody this. Probably shouldn’t say it. At some games, I’ll have her text me. My wife, she’ll watch a game if it’s on TV. ... She watched our game [against St. Bonaventure on Saturday night] on the computer. I’ll give my phone to my assistant director of operations and I’ll tell him just to show it to me at halftime. And she’ll text me like late [Saturday] night. She said, go at No. 3, their point guard, and go at their big guy, they’re in foul trouble. Usually she’ll give me some pretty good advice. ... She definitely is a big part of it. My wife definitely helps me in a lot of ways. I don’t think [Mike Krzyzewski] is calling his wife or getting text messages at halftime. It definitely helps me. She could be the best coach in our house.