With 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, the George Washington women’s basketball program already has a culture of making the Big Dance. Still, no player on the current GW team has ever graced an NCAA Tournament floor. It has been seven years since the Colonials made back to back runs to the Sweet Sixteen in 2007 and 2008. The A-10 Coach of the Year, Jonathan Tsipis, came to GW to get the program back on a national scene. Mission accomplished, and in just his third season as head coach.
On Friday, March 20th, on ESPN2, No 6. seeded George Washington will face will face No. 11 seed Gonzaga in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. The game is scheduled for a 7:30ET start. I caught up with sophomore guard Shannon Cranshaw to get a inside look at what that game day will be like in Corvallis, Oregon for a hungry and excited George Washington team.
BT: What was it like after that comeback victory over University of Dayton to win the Atlantic 10 Championship and seal a spot in the NCAA Tournament?
SC: Ah man! That was a huge moment for our program. Especially after being there last year, not winning the game, then be selected to the NIT instead of the Big Dance. This year felt like redemption a little bit. Everyone was so excited and just really proud of the way we stayed resilient and stuck together and pulled out a win.
BT: What was the feedback like after you all won the game?
SC: I remember finally getting back to the locker room and my phone was poppin’! It was crazy! That was when it hit me that we were on national TV. The amount of tweets and Facebook messages I had, it was really overwhelming in a good way. To see the amount of love and support we get, the new Twitter followers, and all the messages, it was very encouraging. I also remember having like 80 text messages all from my family group message haha. So that was fun going through all those as well.
BT: So has it hit you yet that you’re playing in the NCAA Tournament?
SC: Yeah. Even though we haven’t had our game yet, I think the reality has set in for sure. We are really hyped to be here! Yesterday [Wednesday, March 18th] we had the opportunity to visit the Nike headquarters and take a tour. It’s an incredible place. I was walking around the facility thinking “Dream job! Dream job!” the entire time. I had never been to Oregon before, but it’s really surprised me. It’s beautiful out here.
BT: What’s the personality of the George Washington women’s basketball team?
SC: I’d say energetic, LOUD, and goofy. We all love to have fun and we all get a long very well. When I tell my other college basketball friends that we’ve never had any team drama they are always so shocked. I can honestly say in my two years here we’ve never fought. This is a very passionate team and we’ve had passionate moments, but we always have each other’s back. I love that about this team.
BT: Who is the biggest character on the team?
SC: Bria Bourgeois. Without a doubt. She is the funniest person on the team. It’s crazy because she’s missed her last two seasons with back to back torn ACL’s. For her to still have such an encouraging fun loving spirit really lifts our team up. She makes a difference on our team without even stepping foot on the court. I think that speaks volumes to the type of person she is. She calls herself “Bree-yonce,” so that gives you an idea of what her personality is like. There’s no way you can be around her for five minutes and not be impacted by the joy she brings to life.
BT: Sounds like you girls have a lot of fun. How easy is it for you all to switch gears and get down to business?
SC: Oh it comes automatically. I think that’s a credit to our coaching staff though. They really set the tone for our team. They work hard preparing us for what to expect from our opponents every time we step out on the floor. But they also know how to relax and have fun too. So it’s a good balance. I think as players, as soon as we shift to game mode our focus is dialed in. We’re still loose though, still out there having fun. Like before the game we like to have dance battles in the locker room. During pre-game warmups we are the loudest team in the gym. Everyone in the arena can feel our energy. So don’t mistake focus for quietness. Our team is never quiet haha.
BT: You talk about your coaching staff, what is it like playing for the A-10 Coach of the year?
SC: Coach Tsip is a great coach. He has so much confidence in us as players. I remember when we were down eight points at halftime of the A-10 Championship. We really hadn’t played our style of play all half. There was nothing but positivity and passion from Coach Tsip. He’s the type of guy that builds people up. He’s very passionate about everything he does. He wants to be the best even at the little things. At the start of the second half in the A-10 Championship we came out with so much defensive intensity. It was never a doubt in his mind that we wouldn’t pull away. We’re all really proud of him and extremely thankful to have him as our coach.
BT: So first time this team has been in the NCAA Tournament, what will game day be like for you girls?
Breakfast – We’ll wake up in the morning and have breakfast. During breakfast we’ll probably be joking around. I know everyone is going to be really excited because it’s a big day. Coach Tsip has taught us not to treat game days any different than any other normal day. Everyday is an opportunity to be great. So we approach everyday with that “Big Game” mentality even if we’re not playing that day.
Film – We’ll dive right into film. This is where Coach Tsip’ focus get laser sharp. We notice that as a team and follow his lead. The five players that start that night will tell the coaches specific things about our opponent. By this time, we’ve already been through film before so this is like that one last study session right before the test.
Shoot Around – This is one of the most important times for us during the day. Like I said before we are a very high energy team so it’s important for us to bring that energy the first time we step out on the floor that day. We get a lot of shots up. We’re making a lot of noise. And this time we’ll definitely be getting a feel for Gill Coliseum because it will only be our second time in the arena since we’ve been here. We’ll go through our game plans full speed, with game like intensity. Coach Tsip is a firm believer in how you practice is how you’re going to play so shoot around is always an enthusiastic time for our team. We’ll work up a sweat and get our bodies ready to play at the highest level for the game that night.
Pre Game Meal – When we get to the restaurant for Pre-Game meal that is really when the team’s focus starts to dial in. Nobody is on their phone or using technology. We’re all very present, in the moment and in the room. You can hear conversation has shifted from breakfast talking about anything and everything to the pre game meal talking about the game at hand and what we want to see happen.
Gill Coliseum- We’ll watch the last ten minutes of the first half of the Oregon State vs South Dakota State. The coaches take our phones during this time so we are really dialed into the moment. When we get to the locker room we get hyped. We’ll have a speaker where we play music and have dance offs. We’re joking around with each other. A key to our success as a team is our enthusiasm. This is the time we us to get our energy to the highest level. We want to be focused, but we also have to be loose and very energetic in order to be successful. By the time we take the floor our energy is just overflowing. We are really loud and we just have a lot of fun out there.
Right Before Tip- This is the moment that got me during the A-10 Championship game. I’m sitting there with the other four starters and I’m looking around like, “Wow, this is a big deal!” Last year, my freshman season, I didn’t really play that much and I didn’t get any playing time in the conference championship game. So to be able to start in the A-10 Championship game this year, it was so exhilarating.
I know Friday night when I’m sitting in that chair next to my teammates I’ll definitely be soaking up the energy in the arena. It’s such a huge moment and I wouldn’t want to share it with any other team in the country. To know only 64 teams are getting to be a part of this tournament, it really shows you how much of a blessing and an honor it is to be one of them. It’s a national stage. We’re playing on ESPN2. This is exciting! It’s everything you dream about when you’re in high school putting in the time trying to become a college basketball player. There’s no better feeling. I love this team and I know we’re all going to make the most of our opportunity.