Image credit: Greg Fiume
By: Ashleigh Tobin
The energy surrounding George Washington University basketball is palpable as the student body continues filling the Charles E. Smith Center stands.
The Buff and Blue saw their largest home crowd in years for the men’s team in just the second game of the season, in which they defeated Howard 85-75 in front of 2,363 people. With that many fans in attendance for an early season game, the university was undoubtedly excited to witness the beginning of the Chris Caputo era of GW basketball.
But, the campus’ focus has not just been on the men’s team; more students are showing up to support the Caroline McCombs-led women’s team than before. In their fourth home game of the season, 314 fans were in attendance to watch the Buff and Blue defeat Ohio University 74-54. That exceeds the attendance for the same time last year by 59 people when GW beat James Madison 54-50.
Both coaches have acknowledged the impact of fans in the stands and support from the university.
“The student section is incredible and gives you the chance to build a great program when you have that type of support,” Caputo said.
A significant reason for the shifting culture around the basketball teams is the student organization “George’s Army,” which fills section 103 in the Smith Center as the official student section for GW athletics. Leaders Ryan Puleo and Macy McClintock have put countless hours and effort into getting more students to the games and rallying support behind the teams.
Some of the initiatives they have used to encourage students to attend games include tailgates before tip-off, giveaways, sign contests and a text code that allows notifications about events to be sent to over 700 students.
“So many people have told me and Ryan that George’s Army has changed school culture in the past three months. We have become a sports school, which is so awesome to hear,” said McClintock.
Before the men’s game against the University of South Carolina, one of the season’s biggest games, a tailgate was hosted in front of the Smith Center for students to attend. In addition, George’s Army organized a chicken wing eating and a sign contest with prizes to pump the students up and collaborated with WRGW District Radio to host a “College GameDay” style pregame show. Though the students did not eclipse the attendance from the earlier matchup against Howard, they were certainly more invested in the outcome of the game against the first Power 5 school the Smith Center had seen in years. Students kept the energy up for the entire game, making the building loud as the team silenced projected NBA lottery pick GG Jackson on the court.
The building was later compared to “Times Square on New Year’s Eve” on national television by College basketball insider, Jon Rothstein, a true testament to the changing culture of the student body.
The increased support this season has not gone unnoticed by the players.
“A lot of guys were talking about the environment,” said Brenden Adams, one of the star guards for the men’s team. “We noticed it. It felt great, and gave us all of our energy coming into the game.”
“The crowd was like a sixth player for us on the floor,” said exceptional senior guard James Bishop after the men’s team handily defeated the University of South Carolina in front of a rowdy crowd.
In addition to the effort by George’s Army, both programs hold winning records 12 games into the season and have a talented recruit class coming in next year, which has heightened the excitement around the university.
A key difference for the women’s team has been the improved offense from last year, led by freshman Nya Robertson, and transfers Mia Lakstigala and Jayla Thornton. Averaging 66.5 points a game is a dramatic increase from the 51.6 points per game in 2021. Part of that is due to the improved three-point shooting. The team is shooting 35.7% from three, compared to 27.1% in 2021, which has given fans a show to watch as they continue to put up points in each game.
For the men, familiar faces to the program, Bishop, Adams and forward Ricky Lindo Jr. have been essential to the team’s success under first-year head coach Caputo. Similar to the women, the team’s offense has improved as they are scoring an average of 75.9 points per game, which is almost ten points higher than their average from 2021. Bishop has put on incredible performances for the team and scored a career-high 44 points in the team’s match against Hofstra.
With conference play for both programs a few weeks away, the student fan base will look to continue to be a “sixth man” on the court as the teams hope to continue their winning ways in front of lively home crowds.