Q & A with Alex Mitola: the George Washington grad transfer has March Madness on his mind

Mitola in action for Dartmouth (Courtesy of Steve Manuel)

He is one of the foremost practitioners in college basketball of what we’ll call the “inverse Wingardium Leviosa method.” (It helps if you’ve read or watched the first Harry Potter for this one.)

Basically, when Alex Mitola rises up for a jumper, the process is simple and effective. Flick, and swish to the tune of 202 collegiate three-pointers, converted at a 39% clip.

In three seasons at Dartmouth, the 5–11 guard from Florham Park, N.J. started 85 consecutive games and helped lead the Big Green to their first postseason appearance in 56 years (a berth in the College Insider Tournament last March). He passed 1,000 points in his final game, an 87–72 loss at Canisius.

What he did for the Big Green will resonate for some time yet. In ‘14–15, he averaged a team-best 12.4 points, and maintained a 2.1:1 assist to turnover ratio. There was the thrilling win at Harvard last January, when Mitola went 10-of-10 from the line in the final minute and a half to ice a 70–61 win. His freshman year, Dartmouth had led late at Lavietes Pavilion before fading in a crippling loss. That haunted Mitola, so for his team to show resilience snap an 11-game losing streak against the Crimson, serves as a career highlight.

He has experience. He is clutch. He is exactly the type of player that can help propel George Washington toward the NCAA tournament this season. On Friday morning, before heading to a meeting, Mitola took time to talk with Alley Whoops.

Alley Whoops: You wrapped up a degree in economics in three years — at Dartmouth —while playing DI basketball. This is blowing me away…

Alex Mitola: I mean, it was definitely a challenge. Dartmouth is on a trimester system (fall, winter, spring and summer terms each run for ~two months), so it’s kind of a unique academic path compared to most colleges. But I came in as a freshman with a few AP credits, and I took a few extra classes — I did that out of season — and with those extra classes and AP’s, it added up to me graduating a year early.

AW: Mike Lonergan, the coach at George Washington, has spoken about first interacting with you on the recruiting trail five years ago, when he was the coach at Vermont. What has it been like to reconnect with him?

AM: It was definitely cool to reconnect with coach Lonergan. Vermont was one of the most interesting schools for me, when I was recruited there as a high school junior. I was taking a few visits, because I wanted to make my decision before my senior year, and I knew what I was looking for. I visited Vermont and Dartmouth at the same time, because they’re in roughly the same area, and I met coach Lonergan on my unofficial visit.

Within the week of my visit, he got offered the GW job. But we talked, he told me he liked my game, and he told me about the rumors linking him to GW. But he told me he’d stay in touch. Sure enough, as I thought about it, academics were the most important thing in my decision, and I wanted to go to Dartmouth. It was what I felt was the best fit for me.

Then, this spring, he was recruiting my good friend Jaren (Sina), who’s also transferred to GW (from Seton Hall). I got a call from (Lonergan) a few weeks later, and it picked up right where it left off four years ago.

Mitola facing off against Harvard point Siyani Chambers (Courtesy of Mark Washburn)

AW: When did you begin to think of making the grad transfer?

AM: It became an option, this grad transfer, after my sophomore season. With the way Dartmouth’s schedule works, if I transferred, I was going to leave during the spring of my sophomore or junior year.

I spoke with my head coach, Paul Cormier, and told him it was a possibility I’d consider. I put myself on track academically, and when it came down to it this past spring, I sat down and thought long and hard about it. It was probably the most difficult decision I’ve had to make, but I decided to come back for my junior spring term and graduate from Dartmouth. But the idea started to play out after my sophomore year.

AW: What graduate degree are you pursuing at GW?

AM: It’s in the Elliot School of International Affairs (Ed note: think: top-10 in the country type cred). I’m in international trade and investment policy, and it’s a two-year long course.

AW: What was it about GW that resonated with you?

AM: There were so many factors that played into the decision. The relationship I’d built with coach Lonergan the second time around. Then, I met the guys on the GW team, and it felt like a great group.

Here, I would be able to challenge myself athletically and academically. Another big thing was to join a winning program, a team with a shot at the NCAA tournament. That’s a definite possibility at GW. So, those factors, that’s how I ended up with the decision.

AW: What has it been like acclimating to the new school?

AM: I’ve been here about two and a half weeks, and it’s definitely easier than coming in to a new place as a freshman. I’ve been in college and I know how everything works. The guys have been unbelievably welcoming in making us newcomers — Jaren and I, and the freshmen — feel like part of the team.

It’s only been a couple weeks, but it feels like it’s been months. I’m comfortable around the school, and the classroom. Summer workouts have been good and challenging. I’m enjoying every minute of it.

AW: In the press release announcing your transfer to GW, coach Lonergan spoke of some of your attributes. What do you feel your role will be for GW this season?

AM: I’m entering the season just trying to help the team, whatever way it can be. There’s a few different areas I can help them, and we’ll see how the season goes on, where exactly my role goes, but coach Lonergan likes my shooting ability, and my ability as a point guard.

I’ve played three years of college basketball, I was captain of Dartmouth last year. I’ve got a ton of experience and leadership ability to bring and help out the team.

AW: What memories will you keep from Dartmouth?

AM: Just from a general standpoint, I made some friends there that I’ll keep for life. I’m appreciative and grateful for the time there. There were difficult times, not winning as much as we’d have liked, but the little moments with teammates through the years stick with you. That’s what made us grow close.

I’ll look back on it and be happy. That last year at Dartmouth, at the start of the season, we had three straight games decided by last-second game winners. Each of those games…I’ll look back and remember those.

AW: Your younger brother, Adam (HS class of ‘16), has been making some noise on the travel circuit this summer. Who’s got the better jumper?

AM: Oh man, I don’t know…he’s shooting the ball pretty well right now, so he’d give me a run for my money. But I think I still got him.

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops