PHILADELPHIA - Tara Booker's and Sara Mostafa's college basketball careers should have closed within the next couple of weeks. They've been teammates since they were 10 and this season would have been the end.
But what should be and what will be are two different things - a lesson both learned during their freshman year at George Washington University.
The seniors from Galloway Township likely will be back next season after they separately missed seasons due to injury. It works out for the former Absegami High School star duo, too, because Booker, 22, and Mostafa, 21, say they have more to do at George Washington.
"I wasn't ready to let Sara go yet," said Booker, a three-time Press Player of the Year. "As sad as it was to see Sara get hurt, I'm extremely happy we get to come back for a fifth year. She's been my teammate, my best friend, my sister. It's everything to have her still with me."
They're awaiting the NCAA to clear the final paperwork and allow them to play another season based on medical hardship.
Booker missed the last 20 games of her sophomore year (2009-10) after having chronic knee pain from offseason knee surgery. Mostafa missed most of this season with a fractured left hand, an injury suffered at practice in December. They both opted out of Senior Night festivities at George Washington with the hope they will be back next season.
Mostafa's injury was devastating to the Colonials. Coach Mike Bozeman, who took over their freshman season, said he had designed this season's offense around his 6-foot-5 center.
Instead, Mostafa played in just eight games this season, averaging 9.8 points and 5.9 rebounds.
"I noticed when we played teams man-to-man and they wouldn't double her, she would come up with 27 points, big-time double-doubles," Bozeman said. "To lose her was crucial. We just had to tweak it a little bit and that meant more emphasis on Tara Booker."
Without Mostafa, Booker has played more at power forward, posting up but also jumping out to shoot 3-pointers. She's done well in her ever-changing role and hasn't complained about her status.
"Nothing is ever perfect and we learned that early on," said Booker, who is sixth in team history with 160 career 3-pointers. "It's just adversity we have to deal with and it's good to help us later in life. I've had to come in and play the two, three, four and now the five with Sara out, but it's helped me a lot change expectations and who I am and what I want to do."
When Mostafa and Booker committed to play basketball at George Washington, the Colonials were ranked 11th in the country and had won six straight Atlantic 10 Conference titles.
They thought they would jump right on to that team and continue that kind of success.
But the summer before their freshman year, the Colonials' long-time coach resigned to take another job. Booker and Mostafa remained committed but were then part of a rebuilding program.
They had a 17-14 record their freshman year and Booker was named to the A-10 All-Rookie team.
But from there, it got tough.
Booker missed most of her sophomore year and the Colonials finished 6-22. The following season, 2010-11, they improved to 8-20. They are now 11-14 with the A-10 tournament starting Friday at Saint Joseph's University.
On Sunday, George Washington played St. Joe's in the regular-season finale. Booker, who is taking graduate school courses, had 15 points and 12 rebounds in a 52-49 loss while Mostafa sat at the end of the bench in GW warmups.
"It's been tough getting used to being on the sideline," said Mostafa, who will graduate in May with a public-health degree. "It's been a huge adjustment and it looks like I'll be able to get my fifth year back and that gives me a lot of hope. I keep working on getting better, faster and stronger and look forward to next year."
Getting to play another year together is important to both women. They have had a lot of success as teammates and want to bring that to George Washington.
At Absegami, they led the Braves to four South Jersey Group IV titles and the state Group IV championship in 2005-06.
One more season means a chance to bring this program back to what they had hoped it would be.
"At the beginning of this year, I was kind of sad because I was graduating and I would be leaving (Tara) behind," Mostafa said. "But it's huge knowing we're both going to be coming back and getting our fifth year. It's an extra season to do what we came here to do. We shouldn't have this year and we're not going to take it for granted."
Bozeman is happy to get back healthy players for another season too.
"I'm looking for big things from those two," Bozeman said. "Their senior year, we are going to do special things."
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