Season In Review: Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

Nearly 18 hours after Mount St. Mary’s was thoroughly dismantled by LIU Brooklyn in the second half of the NEC championship game, Jamion Christian answered his phone with the same optimism and level headedness he had shown all season throughout the ups and the downs.

“Man, I’m good,” Christian said when asked about his mood after their season ending loss. “We have most of these [players] coming back and we have a ton of momentum heading into recruiting season. So we just have to get after it and get a couple of guys.”

Mayhem may have run out of steam after a furious late season surge that saw the Mount winning nine straight heading into the NEC title game, yet the head coach was tremendously proud of his team’s effort. And he had every reason to be.

This was a team that had compiled a 19-42 record in the previous two seasons under Robert Burke. Expectations weren’t terribly high coming into the 2012-13 season, nor was anyone expecting the Mount to join the upper echelon of the conference with the likes of Robert Morris, Wagner, and LIU. But the aforementioned Burke didn’t leave the cupboard bare with talent, having recruited and signed transfers Rashad Whack, Sam Prescott, and Taylor Danaher. Early on, it was clear Whack and Prescott were the type of athletic, high-scoring wings Christian needed in order to install his high paced Mayhem system, one where the team was expected to force turnovers and shoot a lot of threes. Repeat: A LOT of threes.

The non-conference season started out promising enough, with the Mount winning four of their first seven contests. In the four victories, the Mountaineers extracted an average of 20 turnovers, made an average of nine threes, and held opponents to under 1.00 point per possession each game. Welcome to Mayhem!

Unfortunately for Christian, teams predictably began to adjust to his havoc reeking system, beginning with a blowout loss at Loyola (MD). The setback began a rough 3-9 stretch including a 2-6 start to the conference season, but Christian wasn’t necessary worried or focused on the somewhat discouraging stretch of basketball.

“I was so caught up in our team just trying to improve everyday, that I didn’t recognize that we were in a winning streak or losing streak,” explained Christian. “I really felt like we were inching closer and closer to being a really good team and we just kept trying to find ways to [improve everyday].”

And improve they did. Following an eight point loss to Robert Morris, the Mount put together a 11-1 streak, which catapulted the Mount from the outside of the NEC playoff picture to almost earning a home game in the first round of the NEC tournament. They were scoring efficiently with Whack, Prescott, and Julian Norfleet leading the charge. They were defending the basketball – in nine of their final 11 victories, the Mount held opponents to under 1.01 points per possession. But most importantly, a point guard emerged in freshman Shivaughn Wiggins. His stark improvement on both ends of the floor, along with Norfleet controlling a majority of the point guard duties, helped drastically advance the Mount’s offense. Both players were finding creative ways to score and getting sharpshooters like Whack, Prescott, and Kelvin Parker good looks along the perimeter.

In the end, the frantic turnaround to their season fell a little short in Brooklyn. According to Christian, the tough loss was an example of how his team needs to improve from a maturity standpoint.

“The moment heightened for our guys,” said Christian when asked about how the second half versus LIU got away. “They recognized they were down seven, down ten. ‘Hey we’re in the championship game, we have to make a move.’ And I just don’t think we handled it very well as a group.”

Losing is always part of the process that makes a team better in the long run, and surely the Mountaineers will come out hungrier and more prepared for a run at the NEC championship next season.

Best Moment: It’s always a good thing when the team’s best moment comes at or near the end of the season, and that absolutely was the case with the Mountaineers. After winning eight straight, the Mount came into Moon Township and dominated Robert Morris on their own home floor in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. The 69-60 semifinal victory was the Mountaineers’ best win since Milan Brown left town.

Worst Moment: Despite beginning the NEC season 2-6 and undergoing a 3-9 stretch midseason, it was their NEC season opening loss to Fairleigh Dickinson at the Knott that really stung. The Mount shot a season worst 14.3% from behind the arc, showing pundits how much the Mount could live and die by the three-pointer. Especially when Christian’s Mayhem system wasn’t creating turnovers from their opponents.

Saying Goodbye

Raven Barber – With three respectable big men at Christian’s disposal, it appeared Barber would finish his career at the Mount as part of the dreaded platoon, sharing time with Kristijan Krajina and Danaher at the “5”. But for the final third of the season, Barber improved his play and was rewarded with more minutes. The physical specimen, who has a similar build to his predecessor Danny Thompson, did well to patrol around the rim and clean up the offensive glass in his senior season. (5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 57.9% FG%)

Kelvin Parker – It was quite the tumultuous relationship between Parker and Christian. The soon-to-be junior was given a scholarship last offseason, fell into Christian’s doghouse early, emerged as another scoring wing midway through NEC play, only to exit stage left at season’s end. It may not have worked in Emmitsburg, but I’m willing to bet another mid-major program will take a chance on Parker’s athleticism with two years of eligibility remaining. Parker has intriguing upside in the right system. (5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.9 spg)

Josh Castellanos – Christian praised Castellanos’ leadership and floor presence, yet his inability to score ultimately found the floor general on the bench once Wiggins emerged as the NEC’s best rookie. In a system where guards are expected to score and make threes, Castellanos’ ability to run an offense and fearlessness in the clutch simply wasn’t enough. Despite the midseason demotion, however, the junior carried himself with tremendous class. (4.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.6 A/TO)

Looking Ahead

The core of the team remains intact, and with the Mount’s hot finish to end the 2012-13 season, they’ll be expected to finish in the upper third of the NEC next year. This expectation is absolutely fair, especially with the scoring trio of Whack, Prescott, and Norfleet returning. Throw in an extra offseason of development for Shivaughn Wiggins – who could be an all-NEC player candidate – and you have the dynamic backcourt that Christian covets. Besides Wiggins, it will be interesting to see how much more production he’ll get out of his sophomore class, including Danaher, Gregory Graves, and Christian Crockett. How they and his freshmen class step up may be the x-factor in determining if the Mount can get back to the NCAA tournament.

NEC Team Capsule: Mount St. Mary’s

Head Coach: Jamion Christian, 1st year
Last Season: 8-21 (6-12 NEC), failed to qualify for the NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 9th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Agressively rebuilding
Key Players Lost: Danny Thompson (7.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.3 bpg), Lamar Trice (dismissed after 2 games)
Incoming Players: Shivaughn Wiggins (PG), Melvin Gregory (F), Gregory Graves (F), Christian Crockett (F)
Previous Posts: Mount St. Mary’s Recruiting Recap, Jamion Christian Interview

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Josh Castellanos (8.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.6 apg)
G: Julien Norfleet (13.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.3 apg)
G: Kelvin Parker (9.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.3 spg)
F: Raven Barber (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 57.5% FG)
F: Kristijan Krajina (5.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg)

Key Reserves: Sam Prescott (G), Rashad Whack (G), Shivaughn Wiggins (PG), Melvin Gregory (F), Gregory Graves (F)

Major Storylines:

  1. A New Era – With all of the attention on the new head coaches at Wagner and LIU Brooklyn, few are talking about Jamion Christian’s arrival at the Mount. A former Mount player, the 30-year old Christian takes over in Emmitsburg after two uninspiring years under the direction of Robert Burke. Christian’s hiring has energized the fan base, but the honeymoon period can only last so long before fans begin to yearn for the glory days of Jim Phelan and Milan Brown.
  2. 40 Minutes of Mayhem – Christian’s hiring brings an exciting up-tempo style of basketball, otherwise known as 40 minutes of mayhem. The philosophy is utilized by Christian’s old boss, VCU head coach Shaka Smart, and will be implemented fully by Christian. The system prioritizes full court pressure on defense and fast, aggressive basketball. It will sure make things exciting again at the Mount, yet it’s unknown whether Christian will have enough athletic bodies and shooters to successfully implement the system. After a season where the Mount scored a putrid 0.91 points per possession, there’s no where to go but up. Transfers Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott are expected to help with the transition immediately.

Lineup Analysis: After nearly getting hired two years ago when Milan Brown left for Holy Cross, Jamion Christian finally broke through as the next Mount coach. There’s much work to be done, especially coming off an eight win season, yet Christian has some talent to work with. For starters, the Mount returns five of their top six most efficient players from last season, led by leading scorer Julian Norfleet. Despite the Mount’s offensive deficiencies, Norfleet still managed to average 13.7 points per game, while scoring in a myriad of ways. Norfleet will be a featured guard in the up-tempo offense, along with newcomer Sam Prescott. The Marist transfer was an inefficient volume scorer at his previous stop, so the challenge for the coaching staff will be to guide the talented Prescott into a team-first mentality. Kelvin Parker returns after a promising freshman season where his athleticism and defense quickly made him a fan favorite. Josh Castenellanos provides a veteran presence at the point, and allows Christian to take his time developing point guard of the future Shivaughn Wiggins, who was a prolific scorer and distributor in high school. Wiggins is part of solid recruiting class that will also feature freshmen Gregory Graves and Melvin Gregory, who each profile as big wings who can attack the rim and defend. Their immediate impact is currently unknown, but the Mount returns valuable experience in the frontcourt with Raven Barber and Kristijan Krajina, who each should log significant minutes. George Mason transfer Rashad Whack gives Christian a deadly outside threat, who should make the most of the open looks he’s expected to receive when the Mount’s offense is chugging down the floor.

Coach’s Quotes:

“Ideally to me, 10 or 11 [guys playing per night] is where I’d like to be at. I just think through the course of the year – it’s a long year – having more guys that can help and I feel like we have a really deep roster of talented guys … I think that will be a huge strength for our team.”
– Christian, when asked how deep of a rotation he’d like to play every game

“It’s really important to have guys playing with a ton of freedom. To really work on offensive skills and get the ball up and down the floor quickly, and to score as fast as you can. LIU obviously does a tremendous job of scoring and not fouling, so they keep the clock rolling. In general when I talk to my guys about it, I tell them I want to make fast look slow. I want people saying, ‘wow that team plays really fast.’ If we can do that and implement our tempo and pace, the sky is the limit on where we can go.”
– Christian, when asked to explain his offensive strategy

Ryan – As exciting as 40 minutes of mayhem will be to watch, most people will need to temper their expectations of Christian’s squad in season one. Implementing a vastly different offensive philosophy will likely take a sizable adjustment, but if the Mount can adapt well enough by mid-season, they’ll be a difficult team to beat, especially at home. The Mount may miss out on an even win-loss conference record, but I think they’ll sneak into the final NEC playoff spot nonetheless.

John – The Mount is back! Alright, that might be overstating it a little bit, but MSM has the chance to make some waves this season. There will probably be some ugly losses though as the team adapts to Mahem, especially considering there’s no indication that anyone on this team can actually shoot. Still, as the season progresses Christian should be able to implement his style of play and grab the final NEC playoff spot.

Previous NEC Team Capsules:
October 24: St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
October 25: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
October 26: Bryant Bulldogs