“What if I told you, Mayhem was a good thing.”
This was Jamion Christian’s final line in a very well put-together Youtube marketing video, and it captures the impetus of the Mount’s seemingly improbable run to the NEC title game last season. Despite only recruiting one impact player for last year’s roster in Shivaughn Wiggins, Christian turned an eight win team into a 18-14 squad that wreaked havoc on the basketball court. Mayhem was officially alive, as the Mount finished chucking up copious amount of rainmakers, 809 to be exact, and turning over their opponents on 23.9% of their possessions.
Heading into his second season, Christian’s team is loaded with grizzled seniors, inexperienced underclassmen, and really nothing in between. It makes for an odd dynamic, but with four of five starters returning – it would have been five of five had Wiggins not been released of his scholarship this summer – the Mount are poised to return to the NEC title game. Maybe this time they’ll even win it.
This past Wednesday, I witnessed the Mount’s practice and had a chance to speak with Christian afterwards. Here were my biggest takeaways from the session:
1) Mount Mayhem Will Continue, For Better or Worse – One of the biggest question marks for this Mount team is their depth. While their starting lineup remains mostly intact, the reserves who make up spots six through ten are virtual unknowns. Can some of the incoming freshmen step up to fill the void? Will an extra offseason of practice and conditioning benefit 7’0” center Taylor Danaher and 6’7” forward Gregory Graves? These are questions the Mount coaching staff still may not know, yet Christian is sticking to the game plan. It’s Mayhem or bust.
“We are definitely going to play ten guys (per game). Everyone is going to get a chance to play. How much of that ten is going to be up to the guys,” stated Christian. The Mayhem scheme simply won’t work with a seven player rotation, so Christian is obviously confident some underclassmen will emerge to fill out the all-important second team.
2) This is Julian Norfleet’s Team – It’s fascinating to study the metamorphosis of Norfleet’s career. He started as a skinny spot-up shooter, progressed into to an all-around sophomore scorer, only to eventually morph into a versatile combo guard that alternated between the “1” and “2” as a junior. Now in his final season of eligibility, a majority of the offense will flow through Norfleet as the starting point guard. He isn’t your prototypical floor general, but given his 103.2 offensive rating and 1.84 assist to turnover ratio last season, Mount fans should feel at ease with the ball in Norfleet’s hands. He’s the unquestionable leader of this team.
Big Apple Buckets will have more on Norfleet in the weeks to come.
3) Breakout Seasons Ahead? – Since last season, the aforementioned Danaher has added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame. His arms were one of the first things I noticed after stepping into Memorial Gym. Kristijan Krajina, who’s quite underrated in his post-up ability, committed a rare turnover after Danaher staunchly held his ground in the paint. It sounds like Christian plans to let Krajina and Danaher share the “5” throughout the season. Individual goals for the two weren’t discussed, but I’ll garner a projection – 13 ppg, 9 rpg, 1 bpg, and a 55% field goal percentage for the two combined. Most NEC teams would surely welcome that kind of production out of their center position.
Graves also looked more chiseled. He’s continuing to develop his perimeter game, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Graves sees a substantial spike in his minutes as a sophomore. The “4” spot is open for competition and Christian made it clear that he’d prefer to move the multi-talented Sam Prescott to the “3.”
“I’m really up on Greg Graves,” said Christian. “I think he’s going to give us a component with our team that’s pretty special, because he can really rebound the ball.” The head coach makes a good point. Under limited time last season, Graves posted a superb 28.2% defensive rebounding rate.
4) The Freshmen Should Fill Niche Rolls As The Season Progresses – Yesterday was my first live look at the 2013 Mount recruiting class, and I came away impressed. Khalid Nwandu, a player we tabbed as the third best freshman of the conference, is athletic and long. With a 6’9” wingspan, Nwandu is the leading candidate to become the Mount’s best shutdown defender, especially given the dismissal of Wiggins. His outside shooting needs some work, but his athleticism and quickness should generate a couple of highlight reel plays in transition. Right now, Christian projects Nwandu as the backup point guard behind Norfleet.
Rookie forward Will Miller displayed some incredible touch from behind the arc. Sure, the slender 6’6” forward needs to imbibe some protein shakes and hit the weights, but this kid can flat out shoot. After practice ended, Miller partook in a three-point catch-and-shoot drill and proceeded to drain a high percentage of his rainmakers. Streaks of six, seven, and even eight shots in a row were finding their way through the net during this drill. In fact, Miller had previously hit 81 threes in a drill that challenges a player to make as many threes as he can in a five-minute span. Miller’s mark was by far the best result among the Mount players, and it should stand. After all, Miller sank one three-pointer every 3.7 seconds!
I’m not sure what kind of impact he’ll have early on, given his inability to body up with opposing power forwards down low, but once he finds a groove, Miller projects as a lethal long-range shooter. The term “stretch 4” tends to be overused a little, but Miller absolutely fits this description.
Finally, I’ll conclude this post with a quote from Christian, when I asked him about some critics who consider Norfleet and the team to be a little overrated heading into the 2013-14 season.
“I think we ended (last season) well, and I feel like some of that stuff becomes forgotten. We didn’t lose for a month and we won games by 12+ (points), so that’s not really luck. That’s the kids figuring it out and deciding that they wanted to (play well)…I feel like all of our guys are a little forgotten, and I’m fine with that. I love that, that feeds into our team mentality.”
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride