College basketball forges friendship on and off the court, but there is probably no bond stronger – or longer – than the one between George Washington’s Tara Booker and Sara Mostafa.
The pair of fifth-year seniors from Galloway, N.J., has been playing together since they were 10-year-olds and have seen each other morph from gawky little girls to mature young women during the course of their friendship.
The first time Booker and Mostafa met, however, was not on the basketball court, but through a mutual friend. Living 10 minutes outside of Atlantic City, the duo joined the mutual friend’s family for a day at the beach.
“Afterwards, we went to the friend’s house and Sara and I ended up in a room by ourselves for a little while,” Booker said. “We didn’t really know each other so it was kind of awkward, but we were 10 years old. Sara is probably the goofiest person I’ve ever met. She decided to put my friend’s kitten on top of the ceiling fan and turn the fan on slow. I think from that point on I couldn’t find anyone who could make me laugh more than Sara.”
The kitten survived the prank, and a friendship began to bloom and basketball was a catalyst.
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In the fifth grade, Booker and Mostafa played on the town’s Police Athletic League traveling team together for the first time. They have been teammates ever since, challenging each other along the way.
“I remember [Booker] started playing with the boys in the town’s PAL,” Mostafa said. “She was able to be on a team with the boys, and I was in the gym one day and saw her and said, ‘I want to play with the boys, too.’ She was better than me … it took me a long time to improve. The next season I was able to get on a boys’ team.”
The pair also played together on AAU teams, in middle school, and at Absegami High School, where they guided their team to back-to-back New Jersey Group IV state titles in 2005 and 2006.
Both were recruited out of high school, and several of the schools that invited them on visits overlapped. George Washington was one of those schools. Booker was the first to commit to GW in the summer before their senior season, while Mostafa continued her hunt for the perfect school for a few more months.
In the end, the lure of Washington, D.C., and a great academic reputation swayed Mostafa to sign with the Colonials as well.
“It had everything I wanted, and it was an added bonus that Tara was going to be there, too,” Mostafa said.
“I don’t how other kids go away to school and not have anyone,” Booker said. “It was such any easy transition for me because I did have Sara. I automatically had my best friend at school with me. It was like a piece of home that I could always go to.”
Booker started right away for the Colonials, earning Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman, while Mostafa played an understudy role while developing into a collegiate center in their first year.
Along the way, both have suffered season-ending injuries, enabling them each to use the option for a fifth season of eligibility. Booker sat out the final 20 games of her sophomore season due to a knee injury, while Mostafa’s senior campaign was shortened by a broken hand early last year.
“[Mostafa] got hurt because she didn’t want to leave me … she broke her hand on purpose so she could get that fifth year with me,” Booker joked.
In addition to the injuries, their basketball careers at GW have not been the smoothest.
When the pair arrived on campus in the fall of 2008, GW was coming off a run of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including back-to-back trips to the Sweet Sixteen. But longtime head coach Joe McKeown left the program after the 2007-08 season to take the head job at Northwestern, and McKeown’s assistant Mike Bozeman took his place at GW.
Unfortunately, the run Colonials’ NCAA postseason streak was snapped, although the program was invited to the WNIT in Booker and Mostafa’s freshman year. But in the last three seasons, the Colonials have struggled, winning just 25 games during the stretch. Bozeman’s contract was not renewed after last year and former Notre Dame assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis took the reins.
At Notre Dame, Tsipis served under Muffet McGraw for nine seasons, helping guide the Irish to back-to-back national championship game appearances in 2011 and 2012.
The first-time head coach is thankful he has Booker, Mostafa, and fifth-year senior Brooke Wilson in his “rookie” season with the Colonials.
“It’s helped make my transition easier because they are so close and they challenge each other to be better,” Tsipis said. “When they were recruited, GW was in the top 25 and I think they both have some expectations to be really good. We talk about writing their last chapter in their GW career.”
“When I found out we would have a new coaching staff I saw that as a new beginning,” Mostafa said. “It’s like we’re all freshmen again, but we’ve also stayed in a leadership role and that’s something Coach Tsipis stressed from the beginning. We are fifth-year seniors and know the school and traditions.”
Tsipis has been impressed with Booker and Mostafa’s desire to end their careers on a winning note.
“They have that sense of urgency to make sure they are doing things the new way and get up to speed as quickly as possible knowing that is going to help define their legacy,” Tsipis said.
While there is always the possibility of playing on the same team overseas, the best friends know this is probably their final year playing together. But, no matter when that time ends, they will always be a huge part of each other’s lives.
“We’ve already decided that we’re going to be neighbors and our kids are going to grow up,” Booker said. “But it doesn’t really matter the distance, I know she’ll always be in my life.”
“We went through a lot of different things together, and overcame a lot of obstacles,” Mostafa said. “I feel like I didn’t get homesick as much because Tara was there. We’ve grown up together, and have done so much growing up in college. We’ve been through a lot of similar experiences, but have each grown into our own unique woman.”