GW’s Kevin Larsen soaking up everything about the NIT
“I think I appreciate it more and I’m enjoying it a little bit more, knowing this could be my last game playing with these guys,” George Washington’s senior forward said. “I’m just taking a minute to soak it all in, because it could be my last time.”
Larsen helped the Colonials extend their season Wednesday night with 19 points in an 82-77 victory against Florida. They advanced to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York, where they play San Diego State on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.
“Of course, there’s disappointment not making the (NCAA) tournament,” Larsen said, “but the NIT is the second-best thing, and we’re motivated now to win the whole thing and get a ring at the end of the year.”
Larsen, a 6-10, 260-pound Great Dane, is part of GW’s international contingent and a senior class that left its mark on the program. The native of Copenhagen is one of three double-figure scorers (11.9 ppg) and leads the team in rebounding (8.5 rpg) and minutes played (33.9 mpg). He is second on the team in assists (89), and his 12 double-doubles are second in the Atlantic 10.
“I just try to go out and do whatever my team needs — rebound, score, giving out assists, whatever they need that day,” he said.
Head coach Mike Lonergan sees a more consistent and committed Larsen this season, owing to greater maturity and the focus of a senior.
“He’s always had a very high basketball IQ, but he’s been more consistent,” Lonergan said. “He’s tried to be more of a leader and take ownership with the team. … Some guys you think you can get a little more out of, but he’s one guy that I couldn’t have asked much more from this season.”
Larsen, wing Patricio Garino and point guard Joe McDonald combined for 371 career starts, which speaks to their ability, as well as GW’s talent level when they arrived in Foggy Bottom four years ago as part of Lonergan’s first full recruiting class. Garino scored 13 points in Wednesday night's victory.
“I think they helped put GW basketball back on the map,” Lonergan said. “When I got here, the program was down. The talent level was bad, the culture was bad. They helped create a culture and they laid a foundation for what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re not there yet, but we’ve made strides.”
The senior trio contributed to teams that has won 72 games the past three seasons, tying the program’s best three-year stretch (2004-07), with one NCAA and two NIT appearances. Larsen counted last November’s win against then-No. 6 Virginia at the Smith Center as probably the high-water mark in a career filled with signature performances.
Larsen, Garino (Argentina) and junior wing Yuta Watanabe (Japan) give the roster an international flavor reflective of a school located in the nation’s capital, where approximately one in seven students are foreign (3,500 out of 25,000). The student section at home games drapes Japanese, Argentinian and Danish flags over the railing, and students routinely chant at the trio in their native tongues.
“When we first got here, we didn’t have the respect of local talent and we had to look elsewhere in a lot of instances,” Lonergan said. “Foreign kids place a greater emphasis on education a lot of times, and we’re a natural fit because of where we’re located. We’re getting more interest from American kids because of the success we’ve had, but we still plan to look at international kids.”
Larsen, who prepped for two years at D.C.-area high school power Montrose Christian, said that the presence of other foreign players and students, as well as the opportunities that Washington presents, appealed to him. He will miss the extended family that he said his team became, through hard work and sweat and success.
“I always look at us as one of the best classes that ever played at GW,” Larsen said. “We’ve taken great pride to get to that status. We really have done a lot to be where we are and we want to keep going and leave an even stronger legacy.”
Above: Kevin Larsen is part of George Washington’s international contingent and a senior class that left its mark on the program. (Courtesy GW Athletics)