Why Mount St. Mary’s Dominated Robert Morris in the NEC Championship

If a Mount St. Mary’s team that finished 8-21 the season prior wasn’t ready for the 2013 NEC championship against LIU Brooklyn, the reigning conference champions, they certainly were ready this time around. Right out of the gate, the Mountaineers couldn’t miss a shot, hitting 12 of their first 16 attempts, building a double-digit lead in the first half. Continue reading “Why Mount St. Mary’s Dominated Robert Morris in the NEC Championship”

NEC Team Primer: #2 Mount St. Mary’s

Head Coach: Jamion Christian, 2nd Season (18-14, 11-7 NEC)
Last Season: 18-14, 11-7 (NEC), Lost Finals of NEC tournament to LIU Brooklyn, 91-70
RPI/KenPom: 118/195
NEC Preseason Poll: 6th out of 10 teams
State of Program: NEC Contender
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Shivaughn Wiggins (9.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.6 A/TO), Raven Barber (5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 57.9% FG%), Kelvin Parker (5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Josh Castellanos (4.3 ppg, 3.2 apg)
Incoming Players: Khalid Nwandu (G), Byron Ashe (G), Charles Glover (G), Will Miller (F)

LogoProjected Starting Lineup:

PG: Julian Norfleet (10.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 A/TO)
G: Rashad Whack (13.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.1 spg, 35.9% 3pt%)
F: Sam Prescott (11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 spg)
F: Gregory Graves (1.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
C: Kristijan Krajina (5.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 62.7% FG%)

Key Reserves: Taylor Danaher (C), Khalid Nwandu (G), Charles Glover (G), Byron Ashe (G), Will Miller (F)

Major Storylines:

  • Building on the Momentum – Lost amid the NEC chaos last season was Mount St. Mary’s superb run of basketball in the month of February. After losing on the road to Robert Morris, The Mount won 12 of their final 14 contests in impressive fashion. Before their defeat in the NEC title game, Jamion Chrisitan’s squad outscored their opponents by an average of 8.3 points while extracting an average of 13.8 turnovers per game during the stretch. Can the vaunted Mayhem pressure continue to reek havoc come NEC time? It remains to be seen if the new defensive rules and coaching adjustments will trim down the effectiveness of a team that had the 23rd highest turnover rate in the nation last season.
  • Assembling a Solid Second Team – Mayhem is minimized without a deep rotation, yet the Mount lost a sizable chuck of their roster this past offseason due to graduation and transfers. The statistics of Raven Barber, Kelvin Parker, and Josh Castellanos may not seem like much, but they were intregal parts (at times) of a deep rotation Christian liked to employ. Now without them and future star Shivaughn Wiggins to lean back on, Christian’s roster has thinned out with only 11 eligible scholarship players (Marshall transfer Chris Martin must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules). In order to comfortably play nine to ten guys, injuries and the under achievement of the underclassmen must be avoided.
  • The Big Three – Much of the onus falls out the terrific trio of seniors in Emmitsburg. We highlighted the importance of Norfleet previously, and it goes without saying how important Whack and Prescott are as well. All three are obviously vital, given that they make up sizable chuck of their total scoring and three-pointers made last season. Their versatility and athleticism gives Christian the ability to employ a trapping, pressing, up-tempo brand of basketball, so it’s imperative they produce and stay healthy. An injury to one of the big three could be crippling.

The Skinny:

Jamion Christian was the jolt of energy this program badly needed after being led by a lackluster Robert Burke the previous two seasons. After serving as Shaka Smart’s assistant at VCU, Christian was handed the keys to a Mount program that had lost its way since Milan Brown departed for the Patriot League.

Predictability, the installation of Mayhem had its ups and downs in the early going. A surprising upset at Atlantic 10 foe George Washington instantly energized the fans, but after that the Mount struggled to find any kind of consistency. After a decisive loss to FDU in early January, two things happened soon thereafter. Julian Norfleet was given the point guard role and freshman Shivaughn Wiggins emerged. What ensued was pure Mayhem – turnovers were being forced, aggressive guards were raining threes and the big man combo of Krajina and Barber were securing the middle. The Mount may have fallen short in the end, but it was a fantastic season nevertheless, especially when considering where they were a year prior.

The offseason came with some disappointments, however, as several players – a few of them already in Christian’s doghouse – transferred out of the program. The most notable was the late departure of Wiggins, who’s loss was not only difficult to swallow, but it also left another scholarship unfulfilled.

Despite the exodus, though, Christian has several pieces to compete for another NEC championship, immediately. Norfleet, Whack, Prescott, and Krajina all return as starters and possess a wealth of invaluable experience. Taylor Danaher and Gregory Graves both added muscle to their lanky frames this offseason and appear poised to increase their role. Perhaps most important is how the four freshmen newcomers perform; after all, at least two will be expected to produce if Christian truly wants to boast a deep rotation. Of the group, Khalid Nwandu has a chance to disrupt opposing guards with his athleticism and 6’9″ wingspan. Byron Ashe and Will Miller are terrific shooters, but their lack of bulk could hinder a possible breakout performance as rookies. Charles Glover projects as a future glue guy, but those type of players sometimes take a while to develop at the Division I level.

Together, there are a lot of questions surrounding this team. Yet their Mayhem style and experienced guards should lead them into the upper half of the NEC once again. It’ll be rotation spots five through nine that may very well determine if Christian’s team goes dancing two years removed from a dismal eight win season.

Coach’s Quotes:

“We play so many guys. The new rules are going to make for the tempo to go way up and we play a high-tempo game, so I think it’s really going to benefit teams with a lot of depth that really pride themselves on guard play. We’re going to have to make some adjustments as far as playing some guys with two fouls… I don’t think it’ll change our defensive identity at all.”
– Christian, on how the new defensive rules could affect his team

“If you’re going to be a great team your post players have to be a factor. They have to be able to score one-on-one on the block. I love the guys we have in Kristijan Krajina and Taylor Danaher. Kristijan’s up to 250 pounds now so he’s much bigger, has great touch and can really score around the basket.”
– Christian, on the potential of his big men

“Growing up my dad always taught me how to play basketball the right way and I really took pride in that. He really taught me how to use my mind on the court and how to use my IQ. You might not see it in the numbers, but there are a lot of things that I do on the court that go unseen.”
– Norfleet, talking about how he developed into a selfless, versatile player


Ryan – If there’s one team I’m going back and forth on, it’s Mount St. Mary’s. They’re loaded with experienced athletic seniors, but may really miss reigning NEC ROY Shivaughn Wiggins on both sides of the ball. Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher could take steps forward, but if they (and the freshmen) don’t, does Christian have a viable second team? With many questions and few answers this early, I’ll deviate to the middle. While I expect them to fall a little short of a championship, a top four finish in the conference is probable. (18 wins, 10-6 NEC)

John – 
I really like this system and I really like what the Mount did at the end of the season. I believe Jamion Christian is one of the brightest young minds in college basketball coaching and that his Mayhem system will be even better this season. The loss of Wiggins certainly hurts, but this is a system team that has talented players like Julian Norfleet accepting different roles to help the team win. It took this team a bit of time to get their feet wet last season, but once it happen they challenged the top of the NEC. The Mount should be right back in the thick of the title hunt again. (19 wins, 11-5 NEC)

Other NEC Team Primers:
#10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers

#7 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs
#4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils
#3 Robert Morris Colonials

Putting Sam Prescott’s 44 Point Performance Into Perspective

To put it in a really cheesy way (please forgive me), love was in the air at the Knott Arena last night for Valentine’s Day, in the form of Sam Prescott’s remarkable 44 point effort. The junior set a school D-I record for most points scored in a game, while also tying a school record for the most three-pointers made (ten) in an individual performance. Quite simply, it was amazing. It even left the opposing head coach in awe.

“You run through a buzz saw every now and then,” said Bryant’s Tim O’Shea after the game. “A kid like Prescott, he’s averaging eight to nine points per game, and he goes crazy on you. Just spectacular shooting. Spectacular. But that’s what happens on your home court.”

After being treated to Prescott’s Valentine’s Day special, it had me wondering how his night stacked up to other tremendous individual performances on the season. So with the help of Basketball State’s efficiency rating, which calculates a number based on all your statistics across the box score (basically the higher the score, the better), I went ahead and charted the top 10 individual performances from a NEC player this season. Not surprisingly, Prescott was on top of this list. Not bad for a player whose previous season high was only 16 points.

1) Sam Prescott vs Bryant: 44 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 16-24 shooting, 10-14 3PT shooting, EF rating of 44
2) Kinu Rochford vs Longwood: 30 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 12-14 shooting, EF rating of 41
3) Louis Montes vs LIU: 35 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 13-17 shooting, EF rating of 38
4) Jon Williams vs Coppin St: 33 points, 17 rebounds, 3 steals, 13-18 shooting, EF rating of 38
5) Kinu Rochford vs VCU: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 12-13 shooting, EF rating of 38
6) Jamal Olasewere vs FDU: 30 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks, 8-17 shooting, EF rating of 34
7) Matt Hunter vs Indiana: 40 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 6-11 3PT shooting, EF rating of 32
8) Rashad Whack vs SHU: 35 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 7-10 3PT shooting, EF rating of 32
9) Karvel Anderson vs Ohio: 28 points, 4 rebounds, 10-10 shooting, EF rating of 31

Tied for 10: Alex Francis, Coron Williams and Malcolm McMillan with EF rating of 30

I was a little surprised not to find Shane Gibson or Kyle Vinales on the list, but both players did have numerous contests with an efficiency rating over 20, which still entails an extraordinary game. Last night’s 42 point outburst for Vinales – in ultimately a losing cause – netted him an efficiency rating of 29, which falls just outside of the top 10.

Another interesting note: Only six of the 12 performances listed above happened at home. This is a bit surprising, but it also possibly illustrates the mental toughness of those players able to perform at such a high level when they’re on the road.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to witness Prescott’s historic night at the Mount. Will there be another great game that cracks this list before the season ends?

NEC Thursday: The Valentine’s Day Recap!

With my wife out of town, I was able to keep my eye on the NEC basketball scene for what turned out to be a special Valentine’s Day recap! Enjoy…

Mount St. Mary’s 84, Bryant 70
Sam Prescott had the performance of his life with 44 points on 16 of 24 shooting to help lead the Mount to an impressive drubbing of league leader Bryant. After the Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead thanks to Dyami Starks’ three points, two assists, and one rebound in four minutes, Bryant struggled offensively when Starks was saddled with two quick fouls. After that, a Prescott onslaught from behind the three-point line guided the Mount to a double-digit lead at the half. In all, Prescott tied a Mount record for the most threes scored in a game (10-14), while also breaking the school’s D-I record for most points in a game. Perhaps quietly, Shivaughn Wiggins and Julien Norfleet did a wonderful job fasciliating on offense. The duo dished out 16 assists versus only one turnover. Bryant shot the ball well, but couldn’t overcome 15 turnovers and a porous effort defensively on the perimeter that allowed the Mount to sink 50.9% of their shots. Alex Francis scored a team high 25 points to go along with ten rebounds, but it simply wasn’t enough to overcome Prescott’s special night.

St. Francis (PA) 64, Sacred Heart 60
In the upset of the night, St. Francis (PA) notched their third win of the season by knocking off a significantly banged up Sacred Heart team on the road. Phil Gaetano was out with the flu leaving the Pioneers devoid of a true point guard on the roster and limiting Dave Bike to seven healthy scholarship players and walk-on Louis Cramer. Shane Gibson did his part registering 26 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and five steals, but it wasn’t enough as no other Pioneer logged a game efficiency rating higher than a six (for non-stat heads, a six isn’t very good). Four players scored in double digits for Rob Krimmel’s club, led by double-double machine Earl Brown with 13 points and 11 boards. St. Francis lost the edge on the boards, but shot well enough from the perimeter (7-16 behind the arc) and at the charity stripe (19-26) to pull through. The win moves St. Francis (PA) out of the cellar with a 3-10 record, while Sacred Heart nows find themselves only up 1.5 games on the 9th place team in the conference. With no more “cupcakes” on the schedule, it’s now or never for the Pioneers coming up.

LIU Brooklyn 82, Monmouth 66
A nearly down-and-out Monmouth team hung tough and even led the back-to-back defending champs with 11 minutes left in the second half, 52-51. But then a 20-5 LIU run put the game out of reach and made certain the Hawks would lose for the fifth time in six games. The offensive numbers won’t make Jack Perri all too happy (1.02 PPP, 14 assists versus 24 turnovers), yet the defense stepped up to force 17 turnovers and a mediocre 40% shooting mark for Monmouth. In addition, the Blackbirds won the rebounding battle 35-27 and hit 14 more freebies from the line. Jamal Olasewere led the team with 23 points, but C.J. Garner was equally as excellent with 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Ed Waite led Monmouth with 24 points, but he needed 19 shots to get there. After him though, only two Hawk players – Jesse Steele and Stephen Spinella – scored more than five points.

Wagner 101, Central Connecticut 82
If Wagner scores the basketball like that the rest of the season, then I’m pretty confident they’ll join Robert Morris, Bryant, and LIU Brooklyn in the upper third of the league at season’s end. Wagner shattered their season high in points per possession with 1.32 PPP, while draining over 61% of their shots in a blowout home win over the suddenly defensively challenged Blue Devils. Seven Seahawks scored at least eight points with Marcus Burton claiming 23 points on only nine shots. The game moved at a feverish pace with 155 total possessions, but it was Wagner who benefitted the most from the tempo. Central Connecticut, led by Kyle Vinales’ 42 points on 24 shots, cut Wagner’s lead to seven points early in the second half, but a 15-0 run by the Seahawks essentially turned the game into a laugher. Odd enough, CCSU falls to 4-8 on the season when they average more than 73 possessions in a game. Is it safe to say the lack of depth hurts CCSU in these games that turn into track meets? Whatever the reason, Howie Dickenman shouldn’t be happy that Wagner outscored his club in the paint, 44-24, while also allowing the Seahawks to drill nine of their 15 long-range jumpers. It was a lousy defensive effort whichever way you slice it.

St. Francis Brooklyn 85, Fairleigh Dickinson 61
When it rains it pours, and right now it’s pouring losses for FDU. The Knights dropped their ninth straight to a struggling St. Francis team, as they were unable to overcome 21 point efforts from both Akeem Johnson and Travis Nichols. The Terriers were efficient on offense, and while that may be from FDU being in the bottom 10% of the nation defensively, Glenn Braica certainly has to be pleased with 16 assists versus a mere five turnovers, a 25-28 shooting performance from the free-throw line, and the fact that his team surged despite a zero point overcome from Jalen Cannon. Kinu Rochford had another monster game for FDU (what else is new) with 20 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent FDU’s slide into the NEC basement.

Quinnipiac 63, Robert Morris 61
In perhaps their last meeting before Quinnipiac departs for the MAAC, the Bobcats outlasted the banged-up Colonials in a ridiculously tight game throughout. Velton Jones supposedly did his best Willis Reed impersonation (OK, maybe not) by suiting up right before tipoff, yet he struggled with only six points on 13 shots. Evan Conti led Quinnipiac with 18 points, six rebounds, and two assists and has been the unsung hero in this recent run for Tom Moore. Conti has scored in double figures in four straight, while also averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. The big difference in the game was free throws, as Robert Morris uncharacteristically went to the charity stripe just 13 times (and missed eight of them). On the other hand, Quinnipiac had 17 points from the line and also doubled the Colonials output on the boards (44-22). The Bobcats are officially the hottest team in the NEC, winning five of their last six contests to move into a tie for fifth place. A home playoff game is now absolutely within reach.

NEC Standings
1) Bryant, 9-3
2) Robert Morris, 9-4
3) LIU Brooklyn, 9-4
4) Wagner, 8-5
5) Sacred Heart, 7-5
6) Quinnipiac, 7-5
7) Central Connecticut, 6-6
8) St. Francis Brooklyn, 6-7
9) Mount St. Mary’s, 6-7
10) Monmouth, 4-9
11) St. Francis (PA), 3-10
12) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-11
*Robert Morris holds tiebreaker on LIU based on head-to-head record (1-0)
*Sacred Heart holds tiebreaker on Quinnipiac based on head-to-head record (1-0)
*St. Francis Brooklyn holds tiebreaker on Mount St. Mary’s based on head-to-head record (1-0)

Monmouth Continues to Struggle on Offense, Loses to Mount St. Mary’s

In just two and a half minutes, seven turnovers were already committed. Given Mount St. Mary’s and Monmouth’s ability to force turnovers (each team is in the top ten nationally in that category), this early development wasn’t surprisingly in the least bit.

Unfortunately for Monmouth, another thing that wasn’t surprising was the Hawks’ inability to put the ball in the basket. It wasn’t from a lack of effort, or even execution on the offensive end. The open looks just wouldn’t fall for the struggling Hawks, and it cost them once again as the Mount pulled away in the second half for a 71-59 victory. After the loss, King Rice was surprisingly upbeat, despite his team now in the midst of a seven game losing streak.

“I told my kids after we’re still a work in progress,” said Rice. “I feel so bad for them, because Jesse [Steele] got good looks, Dion [Nesmith] got good looks … and the ball hasn’t fallen for them yet. So I told our guys, we played hard enough today to be able to win. Now we have to execute and make shots and those types of things, but that’s the type of effort I’m looking for.”

To the Mount’s credit, they hit some shots right out of the gate. After settling down from the initial frenetic pace, the Mount sank 13 of their 27 shots in the first half to take a 31-25 lead into halftime. Big man Kristijan Krajina led the attack with nine first half points on five shots, while Sam Prescott looked comfortable hitting three of four three-pointers.

Said Jamion Christian after the game on his suddenly emerging low post scorer, “[Kristijan] has really given us a consistent low-post scorer. Our guys have done a great job getting him the ball in key situations and I expect him to keep playing the way he’s been playing.”

The tenacious Hawks – clearly taking on the identity of their head coach – predictably came out swinging in the second half. Monmouth used a 8-0 run to pull within one point with 10:34 remaining, but that was the closest the Hawks would get. A 20-6 Mount St. Mary’s run to conclude the game ultimately broke the back of Monmouth.

In those final ten minutes, Monmouth missed nine of their final 11 shots and ended the night with a now league worst 0.81 points per possession and 41.3% field goal percentage. Jesse Steele, in particular, still hasn’t found his stroke (shooting 26.8% from the floor for the season), yet Rice isn’t ready to take the ball out of his hands.

“Last year Jesse wasn’t in shape, last year Jesse didn’t try hard all the time, and Jesse had a great year for us last year,” said Rice. “Now Jesse has gotten in great shape, he’s put in more time on his game then he ever has since high school, he’s doing all the right things, he’s trying his best to be our leader, and the ball hasn’t fallen. But I told Jesse over and over and over, keep shooting the ball, son. When you score the way you score, it’s going to start happening at some point.”

Andrew Nicholas led the Hawks with 19 points, although he needed 19 shots to score those points. Despite the losing streak, Rice is still confident enough to believe his team will get through this rough patch and become a factor once again in the NEC.

“I like our team,” said Rice. “I probably messed in scheduling in having the three high major games in a row. We were playing at a high level before the Navy game and we lost our mojo a little bit.”

“They are great kids. If they weren’t buying in then it would be a different story, but our kids are bought in and we need some things to break for us, and I believe they will.”

After what appears to be a brief reprieve with St. Francis (PA) coming to the MAC, Monmouth will then embark on a difficult three game set with Robert Morris, St. Francis Brooklyn, and LIU Brooklyn. Those open looks need to fall soon, or Monmouth will find themselves in a deep, deep hole by late January.

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

Q&A with Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian in his office.  The enthusiastic and well spoken Christian discussed his team, the incoming recruits and transfers he inherited, and his overall outlook of the Mount next season.  Below are the highlights of our half hour face-to-face discussion.

Ryan Peters:  The NEC recently saw a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks.  One of the new coaches hired, Bashir Mason, was featured in an article on ESPN.  In the feature, Mason admitted  he let out a yell and pounded his chest when he found out he got the Wagner job.  So I have to ask you coach, what was your reaction when you found out you were the next head coach at the Mount?  Did you do a little dance in celebration?
Jamion Christian: First of all, when I got the phone call from President Powell, I was just elated.  I remember sitting out on my penthouse rooftop deck in Richmond, and I was really excited.  But immediately when I hung the phone up, I told my wife and then I said, we need to get to work.  I probably spent about 5-10 minutes  enjoying it, and then I went immediately into thinking, what can I do to help our players get better from day one, and what kind of players do we need to bring in, and most importantly, what kind of staff was going to allow the Mount to get back to where we need to be doing in the right way.  So those things happened, and then I had to talk to (VCU) Coach (Shaka) Smart, and his advice and sincerity through this process was unbelievable, because all he wanted from day one was for me to do what was best for me and my family.

RP: You were hired in late March and forced to fill 3-4 scholarships for this roster immediately.  Was it difficult to go out and recruit right away with it being so close to the signing deadline?
JC: Well the recruiting part, knock on wood, was the easier part because I had been located here in the mid-Atlantic region my entire life and recruited DC, Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina.  Getting here and having some scholarships available, I had a very strong idea of what we needed and in my vision of how we wanted to play.  I always kept a very deep list (of recruits) for every school that I’ve been at.

RP: Shivaughn Wiggins was a player you had previously recruited as an assistant at VCU.  You talked in your press conference about implementing a fast, aggressive, up-tempo offense.  Why was Shivaughn the first player you signed with this offensive philosophy in mind?
JC: First of all, I love scoring guards.  I think anytime you’re going to play up-tempo basketball at the mid-major level, you need guards that can really score the ball, and have that mentality to score.  Shivaughn is so unique, because one year he averaged 7 assists per game as a junior, and the next year he averaged 25 (points per game) as a senior.  To find a guy with those types of talents, who can score the ball but is unselfish enough to make passes, that’s really exciting.  To find a guard of his caliber that late is really special.

RP: Do you expect Wiggins to compete for minutes right away with your other point guard, Josh Castellanos?
JC: I think Josh is going to have a tremendous year and I’m really excited to work with him. We run a very point guard friendly offense here because we play so up-tempo, so Josh is going to be extremely important.  He averaged a little over 4 assists per game last year; he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot more this year.  We’re going to need him to continue to improve, as he’s done the first 4 months I’ve been here.  One of the things which was underrated was (Josh’s) ability to lead and organize our team.  For us to continue to be good, we need his leadership.

RP: Going back to the offense, in your press conference you used the words “extreme pace.”  What does that mean?  Will this offense try to emulate LIU, where you’re averaging 75-80 possessions a game?
JC: 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.

RP: You brought in 3 freshmen big men for this roster.  Let’s start by talking about Gregory Graves.  Does he profile as a “5” for this roster?
JC: For us, he’ll be more of a “3” or a “4”, because he has great flashy ability to get to the rim, and he’s a high motor guy, who is really versatile.  I’m sure if you ask him to play the “5” he could do it, but I think for how we’re going to play, I like big wings that can defend.  I think (Graves) fits that mold of a “3” or “4” for us.

RP: There isn’t much out there about Melvin Gregory, not even a highlight clip on Youtube.  All we really know about Gregory is he won in high school and he put up some big numbers doing so.  Talk about his game and how it will transition to D-I?
JC: What Melvin gives you is he can score the ball.  He learned the game playing 5 on 5, which is untraditional to how guys learn how to play the game now.  He can score the ball right-handed or left-handed, he has nice range – a really good outside shooter – and he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.  For us, he’ll probably be a “4” or “5”, because he doesn’t have the ball handling skills of the other guys.

RP: Christian Crockett comes from a high-profile high school program, but he went under-the-radar in high school.  Talk about his game.
JC: First of all, Christian brings a physicality, he’s built like a football player, but on our board he’s the most athletic guy in terms of finishing above the rim and defending.  He’s going to be a guy from a physicality standpoint that’ll have an opportunity to help us right away; unlike the other freshmen, he’s physically ready right now.  He may lack in some areas in terms of outside shooting, but his ability to get to the front of the rim is as good as anyone on our roster.

RP: Do you expect to red-shirt any of those guys?
JC: That’s a great question.  I think if you look at mid-major basketball and the teams that have been very good, those programs red-shirt guys and they’re always older, especially in the frontcourt.  I think the opportunity is there to red-shirt guys.  The tough thing is from now until the season begins, you don’t know which guys on our roster may get injured, you don’t know which guys haven’t progressed until the season begins.

RP: You have a couple of transfers that are eligible this season.  Sam Prescott led Marist in scoring a couple of seasons ago, but he didn’t do it very efficiently.  Will he be a valuable contributor in the backcourt?
JC: Sam’s an exciting player.  A lot of fans around the Mount had a chance to watch him play in the Blue/White game last year and they were really excited.  He has the ability to wow you, which I think is a big part of how we’re going to play, up-tempo, in your face.  He can do it all – he can defend, he can make passes, he can score the ball.  I think the biggest thing for his development is we need him to be a guy who can bring other guys with him.  He obviously didn’t have the opportunity to do that at Marist, so we challenge him everyday.  It’s not about being the best player here or the best player in the league, it’s about developing wins and a winning mentality.  Over the last 4 months, he’s done an outstanding job of winning, and that’s what I’m really proud of.

RP: Another transfer, Rachad Whack, could serve as a 3-point specialist off the bench for the Mount, but do you see more of a role for him?
JC: We’re going to shoot a ton of threes, so that’s going to fit Rashad well.  I’m really excited to get a chance to coach him, because I know the type of player that he can be.  And he just didn’t get a chance to do it at George Mason, because of the numbers game, but I think sometimes his ability to defend, his understanding of the game, and playing under a great head coach like (Jim) Larranaga, that’s only going to help our young team.  When you look at our team, you don’t have guys who have proven they can win.  Rashad has done that, he’s been there with some great teams, so the biggest thing he helps with on a daily basis is showing our guys what we have to do to be a champion.

RP: One player I really enjoyed watching last season was Julian Norfleet.  He transitioned his game from a pure shooter to a scorer, especially when Lamar Trice was dismissed from the team.  Are you expecting big things for Norfleet?
JC: I really feel like Julian is a little under the radar right now.  What he was able to do last year – what I saw when watching film – was a young guy coming into his own understanding what it takes to be really good in this league.  I think he’s under the radar which is great, because he’s been practicing with a chip on his shoulder.  I think the lack of media coverage has really helped him because he’s been really able to focus and he’s had one of the better summers.  This summer, in the month of June, he made over 18,000 threes and 15,000 (threes) in the month of July and that’s doing it at a high level and extreme pace.

RP: One of the fan favorites on this team is Kelvin Parker, probably because of his story as a walk-on who burst onto the scene last season.  It seems like his athletic profile fits your system perfectly.  Do you agree?
JC: Kelvin is such an unassuming scorer, which is great.  When you put him out on the floor with Julian or Sam, they will demand double teams and then Kelvin could be a silent killer.  Watching his games last year, he was just that.  He has a great level of athleticism.  He’s a guy who has really learned over the last 4 months….we’ve really spent of lot of time with him on speeding his shot, sprinting off to get open shots, and he’s had an outstanding summer shooting the ball.

RP: Will Parker have a bigger offensive role with this team?
JC: Well, how we are going to play is going to demand that our wings can score the ball.  So whether we’ll call a lot of plays for him or Julian or Sam, that’s to be determined, but for the most part, we’ve going to preach our guys to get paint touches and really share with our guys on the outside, and I’m really hoping (Parker) could be one of the those guys.

RP: This sounds like a deep lineup – are you looking to play 9-10 guys throughout the course of the game?
JC: At least.  Ideally to me, 10 or 11 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’ll be a huge strength for our team.

RP: Is making the NEC playoffs a fair goal this season?
JC: Definitely.  You have to make it into the playoffs to have a chance to play in March.  For any team in the country, that’s where you want to be at.  You want an opportunity to play and once you get into the tournament, anything can happen.  And that’s the beautiful thing about college basketball, once you get there the best teams at the time have a chance to go dancing.

RP: Finally, what can the Mount fans expect from the team this season?  What is your message to them?
JC: I think (the fans) are going to be really excited about our group.  That’s the biggest thing, we want to bring the fun back.  We’re going to be a fast pace team and they haven’t seen that in 60 years (laughs) and that’s going to be different.  I want them to rally behind our guys because they’re a group that’s hungry to win.  They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do for the last 4 months in terms of improving, in terms of becoming better citizens, and just in terms of becoming better basketball players and paying the price everyday.  There’s nothing more I want to see out of our fan base than for them to support these guys, whether we start out 10-0 or 0-10, to have them here will mean a lot for our group.  We have a great fan base that understands the history of the Mount and they understand how good we can be.

Jamion Christian and the 2012 recruiting class offers Mount St. Mary’s a fresh start

Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers:  8-21 (6-10 NEC), Failed to Qualify for the NEC Tournament

Players Lost:
G Lamar Trice (dismissed from team) – 2 games, 10 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.5 spg
PF Danny Thompson – 7.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.3 bpg
G Chad Holley (transfer) – 3.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.9 ap
F Jacolby Wells – 2.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.6 bpg

Incoming Players:
Shivaughn Wiggins, 5’10″ PG – North Mecklenberg High (NC)
Christian Crockett, 6’6″ PF – Travis High (TX)
Melvin Gregory, 6’8″ PF/C – Lancaster High (VA)
Gregory Graves, 6’7″ PF/C – Potomac Falls High (VA)

This past season was quite forgettable for the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers.  For the first time in 7 seasons, the Mount finished with a losing record in the NEC, puncuating a new low for a normally proud program.  Head coach Robert Burke resigned at the end of the season, and with his resignation, brought some much needed hope among the Mount faithful.

Former Mount player and captain Jamion Christian, just shy of his 30th birthday, was hired to lead the rebuilding process.  And from day one, Christian made it clear that he plans to implement an up-and-down, fast paced tempo.  It’s an offensive approach that couldn’t be more different from Burke’s half-court philosophy, when the Mount averaged a meager 60.5 points and 65 possessions per game in the past 2 seasons.

In order to implement a run-and-gun system, however, Christian needed a dynamic playmaking point guard who is comfortable directing his team on the run.  So within a few weeks of his hiring, Christian signed a player he recruited while at VCU, Shivaughn Wiggins.  The 5-foot-10 point guard, although short in stature, makes up for it with his quickness, tight handle, and on-the-court leadership.  Wiggins is a heady point guard that plays unselfishly and commits himself on both ends of the floor.  In his senior season at North Mecklenberg, he averaged a school record 25.1 points per game after setting a school record the previous season in assists per game.  Talk about a player who’ll do anything – and do it quite well – to help his team win.

In the short-term, Wiggins should play significant minutes even with Josh Castellanos and Julian Norfleet locked in as the Mount’s starting backcourt.  Last season, the Mount shot a pathetic 31.7% from behind the arc, so Wiggins should have an opportunity to show off his range and help push his teammates in transition.

Next up are two potential impact power forwards, Gregory Graves and Melvin Gregory, who should both temper the loss of big man Danny Thompson.  Graves, a Burke recruit, plays with a center’s mentality and profiles more as a “4” or “5” on the floor, given his ability to score down low.  He certainly isn’t afraid of contact and can finish around the rim in traffic.  Despite his center tendencies, Graves can and will run the floor, a trait that should endear him to Christian and his offensive philosophy.  Graves will need to work on his perimeter game to access his full potential, but his physicality and nose for the basketball should help him contribute right away.

Gregory is more of an unknown, since I can’t find a second of Youtube footage on him and he was lightly recruited.  Nevertheless, a quick glance at his high school stats should ratchet up some excitement for Mount fans.  As a senior, Gregory averaged 20 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks per game to help lead his team to a state championship.  While serving as Lancaster High’s big man, Gregory also exhibited a solid perimeter game, with the ability to knock down the outside jumper.  He’ll need to add muscle to his wiry frame, and when he does, his versatility and athleticism should compliment Graves’ game very well.  It’s easy to envision Graves and Gregory as the frontcourt of the future.

Rounding out the four man recruiting class is Texas native, Christian Crockett.  The 6-foot-6 Crockett was a key contributor (leading his team in rebounding) on a highly successful high school program.  Being part of winning program certainly has its value, but it’s tough to determine how successful Crockett will be at the next level.

Lastly, there are 3 players who sat out last season that are eligible to play this season.  The most important of the bunch is junior transfer, Sam Prescott.  2 seasons ago, Prescott led a 6 win Marist team in scoring at 11.4 ppg. It was hardly an efficient effort – Prescott had a pedestrian EFG% of 44.5% to go along with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.4.  Nonetheless, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard was moderately recruited out of high school, so there’s certainly some talent there.  A move from the MAAC to the NEC should benefit Prescott, and make him a valuable member of the Mount’s backcourt rotation.

The other 2 players shouldn’t garner as big of a role, with George Mason transfer Rashad Whack serving as a three-point specialist off the bench and red-shirt freshman Taylor Danaher as a big body off the bench.  Danaher is currently listed as 7-foot-0, 210 pounds, which as you could have guessed, is ridiculously skinny by college basketball standards.  For the Mount’s sake, I hope Danaher spent his red-shirt season doing the following four things – practicing hard, eating, lifting weights, and eating some more.

What a difference a year makes.  Last season, Robert Burke’s collection of scholarship freshmen (not including walk-on Kelvin Parker) hardly produced for the Mount.  This season, Christian’s 2012 recruiting class already has more projected upside and promise to out-produce Burke’s recruits, yet in fairness we’ll need to see this group play actual games.  Christian’s inaugural season running the sideline is the first step toward bringing Mount St. Mary’s back to respectability, to the level that Milan Brown had achieved before he left the program for Holy Cross.  Given Christian’s enthusiasm and impressive work ethic thus far, Mount fans will have more to cheer for at Knott Arena this season.  They can now cheer for their future, because it’s a lot brighter then it was a year ago.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball on Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride