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The Pistons, a GW Castoff, and a 1-27 Season


(By Carlos Osorio - AP)

From a national perspective, the most interesting things about the hiring of John Kuester as the Detroit Pistons' head coach were his lack of NBA experience and his unknown name. From a local perspective--or, at least, for longtime locals--his hiring was about 1988-1989, when a 33-year old Kuester was still coaching in Foggy Bottom. I'll let an e-mailer explain: "For most of his tenure, he was a mediocre coach in a mediocre league, but for one, not-so-magical season, he was the worst coach in the country."

I'm not sure about that, but it's definitely true that Kuester was at the helm when the GW Colonials stumbled to a 1-27 record, which wouldn't have earned them many points in that year's Sports Bog poll, had such a thing existed. Although, trust me, there would have been plenty of good pith in a bizarre season that included three freshman starters, playing time for two walk-ons, suspensions, games against Dave Bliss, Bobby Cremins, Ed Tapscott, John Calipari and John Cheney, and a court-storming, from the fans of the team that finished with one win.

GW fans haven't forgotten that year. Some of them at GWHoops.com have wished Kuester well, arguing that his NBA life is completely separate from his GW tenure. Others went there.

* "Wow. Just wow. Apparently Joe Dumars did not follow the Atlantic 10 circa 1988-89."

* "Of all the bizarre stories connected with GW basketball, in my decades of following the team, this has to rate close to the top. Maybe he omitted 1988-1989 from his resume and the Pistons don't know about it. Or maybe they are dyslexic and were quite impressed with 27-1. Or maybe someone lost a bet."

Because it's July, I just got lost in the archives for way too long, reading about that special season, which came back in an era when the other A11 coaches included John Thompson II (at Georgetown), Ed Tapscott (at American), Bob Wade (at Maryland), Lefty Driesell (at James Madison), Ernie Nestor (at George Mason) and Terry Holland (at Virginia). It was also an era when The Post didn't acknowledge Virginia Tech as a local school.

I guess any season that ends at 1-27 would make for good reading, and this one didn't disappoint. A few highlights:

Oct. 15: From The Post: "John Kuester begins his fourth season at George Washington, hoping to improve on the 10-17 mark of last year. The Colonials will practice twice today."

Oct. 16: "We're not as well thought of as other people in our league," Koester says. "But we're going to surprise some people. We've got a very good nucleus."

Nov. 20: "If we're healthy," Kuester says, "we'll be an interesting team."

Nov. 26: In their home opener, the Colonials fall, 77-68, to Yale in a game that featured 48 turnovers. That Yale team would go on to an 11-17 record, finishing sixth in the Ivy League. "I think we got complacent a bit because we were playing an Ivy League team," GW's Ellis McKennie says. "Not to knock the Ivy League, but when you lose to an Ivy League school, you go back to the bottom of the barrel."

Nov. 28: GW loses at home to Hartford, which had been in Division I for five years, having elevated to that level under then-president Stephen J. Trachtenburg. The Colonials trailed by 23 in the first half.

Dec. 3: Bobby Cremins and 12th-ranked Georgia Tech come into Foggy Bottom and win by 30, the second-worst loss at Smith Center for GW at that point. Dennis Scott had 31.

"I was very encouraged," Kuester says. "Don't look at the score. Look at how hard we played. We'll be all right."

Dec. 7: GW drops to 0-4 at home with a loss to American and Tapscott. Both head coaches will one day earn top spots in the NBA. Tapscott has nicknamed one of his players The Sheriff, "because he does a good job of handcuffing people."

Dec. 10: GW hosts Rutgers, which has lost 34 consecutive regular season road games. Rutgers wins. GW is now off to its worst start in two decades.

Dec. 18: The Colonials announce that McKennie, who leads the team in points, steals and assists, will miss six to eight weeks because of a stress fracture in his right foot.

Dec. 19: Up one point with six minutes to play, GW watches UMBC go on a 13-0 run and hold on for the win. The Colonials fall to 0-6 at home.

Dec. 24: Post headline: "KUESTER NOT SHAKEN BY 0-6 START; GW ATHLETIC DIRECTOR GIVES COACH A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE."

Dec. 27: GW loses by 24 to Dave Bliss and New Mexico. "We need to be stronger defensively, but we're improving each time out and I'm encouraged," Kuester says.

Jan. 15: GW drops to 0-14, continuing the worst start in school history. Kuester announces McKennie will red-shirt. The Colonials are now the only winless team in Division I.

Jan. 17: The Colonials lose to West Virginia by two, despite being 20-point underdogs.

Jan. 21: The Colonials finally find their slump-buster in U-Mass, blasting the Minutemen, 103-77 at Smith Center and leading to this account in The Post: "When the buzzer went off, students cut down the nets, danced on the floor and mobbed freshman center Clint Holtz, whose 19 second-half points led the charge that erased a four-point deficit." Kuester reportedly had a tear in his eye during the post-game press conference. "You really find out who your friends are when you're 0-14," he says while thanking his wife. And yet he was completely upstaged by Calipari. Check this out:

During the spurt that put the game out of reach, Massachusetts Coach John Calipari grew more and more furious with the officials. First Calipari took off his coat and threw it. Then after a foul was called on one of his players with 3:41 left, Calipari took off his tie and started to unbutton his shirt. That's when the officials slapped him with a technical. Calipari then stomped to the end of the bench and shook hands with the Colonials' mascot. Then he walked behind the bench and gave high fives to the George Washington student section.

"I apologize for my actions," Calipari said. "If they hadn't called the 'T', I would have been barechested." As for getting slap-happy with the students, Calipari said, "I don't know, I guess I felt like Morton Downey."

Jan. 26: GW loses by 35 in Morgantown.

Feb. 4: Penn State, behind a 24-3 second-half run, wins by 16 in Foggy Bottom. "We played a beautiful first half," Kuester said.

Feb. 6: St. Joseph's, which entered the game winless on the road, sneaks out a two-point win at Smith Center.

Feb. 14: Kuester suspends three players for the rest of the season for violating team rules. GW adds a walk-on to bring the total number of healthy players to eight.

Feb. 26: With the team's record at 1-25, AD Steve Bilsky says he expects Kuester to return for another season. But there are suggestions that failure will not be tolerated. From The Post: "Trachtenberg, according to sources, will pursue athletic success more aggressively than predecessor Lloyd Elliott and wants to use the success of the basketball team as a recruiting tool for the student body in general."

March 1: Sally Jenkins reflects on both GW and Navy, which finished its regular season 6-21. "A fan of George Washington felt so badly for Clint Holtz he baked the freshman center a cheesecake," she writes. "But that didn't relieve the embarrassment against Rutgers, when during a lull one spectator yelled, 'You don't have to guard him, he'll mess up by himself!' "

March 1: The Colonials finish the regular season with a 26th loss, but Bilsky says "something extreme and unthinkable" would have to happen to prevent Kuester from returning. The 1-26 regular-season mark is the school's second-worst, and the worst since going 0-9 in the first season, 1907-08. After two players foul out, the Colonials ended the game with two walk-ons, who had been on the team for two weeks, on the court together.

March 4: GW loses its A-10 tourney opener to end the season at 1-27, tying the NCAA record for losses in a season then shared by Washington State (1953), Pacific (1984) and U.S. International (1985). "Maybe it is good in some ways [that the season is over]," Kuester says, "but I don't think so. I am a competitor and I just didn't want things to end."

March 12: Kuester "is definitely going to be back -- no doubt about it," Bilsky says.

Postscript: That summer, Kuester was named co-coach of the Atlantic 10 all-star team that toured Scandinavia. The next year, the Colonials went 14-17--the second-biggest improvement in Division I. Still, Kuester agreed to a $60,000 buyout of the final year of his contract after the school said he would otherwise be fired. The list of rumored candidates included names like George Raveling, Paul Westhead, Don Casey, Mike Brey and Morgan Wootten. Eventually, the school hired Mike Jarvis, who had also succeeded Kuester as the coach at Boston U. Kuester headed almost immediately to the NBA, eventually spending 13 years as an assistant coach before finally getting his head job this month.

By Dan Steinberg  |  July 9, 2009; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  College Basketball , NBA  
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Comments

it would have been better if he took over for Mike Brown instead.

Posted by: d_skillz | July 9, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Just FYI -- Virginia Tech is NOT a local school any more than Virginia is. It's four and a half freaking hours away. Just because a lot of people here went there or their kids do doesn't make it a local school. A lot people here went to Harvard and Yale too. Even Duke. How anybody can consider a college 270 miles away "local" is beyond me.

Posted by: bethesdaguy | July 9, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

So it sounds like his hiring is right on par with Ed Tapscott -- he of the drafting of Frederic Weis with the Knicks 1st round draft choice -- at the helm of the Bullets this past, dreadfully painful season.

Oye.

In mustache we trust.

Posted by: aperlut | July 9, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

hobbs is the 2nd coming of this "castoff"

firehobbs.blogspot.com

Posted by: firehobbs | July 9, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

I was one of the two walk-ons on that team. I joined with about 5 regualr season games left. I was also one of the students Calipari high-fived at that UMASS game, something he remembered when I saw him at the A-10 tournament that year.


That was a crazy year of basketball to be sure.

Posted by: Lassiter15 | July 10, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

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