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Isaiah Armwood is thriving at George Washington

Dec 2, 2012, 4:18 PM EDT

Isaiah Armwood, Rhamel Brown

Isaiah Armwood loved his time at Villanova, and the Villanova program loved him back. He was even named a captain prior to his junior season in Philly.

But in August of 2011, just a couple of weeks before school started, Villanova took a trip to France and the Netherlands, and Armwood realized that his dream of being a major contributor for the Wildcats may never come to fruition. The addition of Jayvaughn Pinkston and Markus Kennedy — plus the return of Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton — caused a mathematical quandary. Armwood was in line to be, at best, the fourth big man in Jay Wright’s rotation, and there usually aren’t a ton of minutes available for the fourth big man.

So Armwood left Villanova, announcing his intention to enroll at George Washington just six days later.

“I just wanted to go somewhere where it was more fit to me, where I had a bigger role on the team,” said Armwood, a Baltimore native that attended Montrose Christian Academy, a high school located in Maryland’s DC suburbs. “At Villanova it was a lot different. I still had a role, but it was a lot smaller because they focus on the guards there. I was just looking to transfer to where I could play a lot.”

Mike Lonergan certainly wasn’t complaining.

Having just taken the job at George Washington following the firing of Karl Hobbs, Lonergan was looking for a post presence to try and rebuild the Colonials around. Top 75 recruit Erik Copes had already decommitted, following his uncle and former GW assistant Roland Houston to George Mason. And while it took a year for him to finally see the court — Armwood wasn’t one of the fortunate transfers to be granted a waiver precluding him from sitting out the mandatory one season — the addition is finally starting to pay dividends.

Heading into Sunday’s date with Manhattan in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center, Armwood was averaging 11.5 points, 8.5 boards and 2.5 blocks. In the 67-55 win over the Jaspers, Armwood finished with a career-high 23 points, nine boards and six blocks. “I thought Isaiah really controlled the game,” Lonergan said.

“He played very well, he had six blocks and was a defensive presence that bothered us,” Manhattan head coach and former Louisville assistant Steve Masiello said. “I want to give him a lot of credit, he’s a terrific player. … We missed seven layups in the second half.”

Armwood’s role on the offensive end of the floor was obvious enough. He’s not exactly a back-to-the-basket presence, but he’s a terrific athlete with long arms and a soft touch around the rim, making him an ideal candidate for dump-offs when guards penetrate.

“I told him, if you stay near the basket, you’ll get 20 points,” Lonergan said, proving to be quite prescient. “They kept finding him under the basket.”

What makes Armwood so valuable, however, is that he’s more than just a prototypical shot-blocker and finisher in the paint. George Washington won on Sunday despite turning the ball over 23 times against Manhattan’s press. So Lonergan asked Armwood — the team’s 6-foot-8 leading scorer and defensive presence in the paint — to take over ball-handling duties, as well.

“It’s funny,” Lonergan said, “we’re trying to get the ball to our big guy at half court [to beat the press].”

Beating a beat-up Manhattan team is one thing, putting together a full-season of competitiveness in the very strong Atlantic 10 is another. It remains to be seen if GW will be able to pull that off.

But on a team that doesn’t have a ton of great perimeter play, a shot-blocker and finisher around the rim — especially one that can chip in on a press break — is an extremely valuable commodity.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.