At this time last season, men’s basketball head coach Maurice Joseph had no say in his first freshman class as a head coach.
The entire 2016-17 roster was recruited while he was an assistant coach.
But less than two months into his time at the helm, Joseph signed his first recruit in former Bishop Hendricken guard Justin Mazzulla. Since then, he’s added three more Class of 2021 players to the roster and incorporated them into a Colonials team that returns only six players this season.
Along with Mazzulla, guards Terry Nolan Jr. and Maceo Jack and forward Javier Langarica fill out the freshman class. Joseph said the group will need to make an immediate impact and fill important roles on the court, especially in guard positions, in order for the team to win games.
“They are going to be huge,” he said. “They are going to be going into the fire and for better or for worse we are going to see what they’re made of, and that’s a good thing. It’s something you can’t shy away from.”
Nolan said the freshmen know they will be counted on heavily and that he expects nothing less than a championship season.
“I never set the standards low,” he said. “So I would say a successful year for us would be making it far into the A-10 playoffs and hopefully get to the NCAA Tournament.”
Between graduating seniors and transfers, GW lost seven players from the 2016-17 roster, leaving a void for the current freshmen to step up, Joseph said.
Mazzulla, Nolan and Jack will compete for prominent roles in the backcourt, while forward Javier Langarica – an international player from Bilbao, Spain – will look to bolster GW’s frontcourt depth.
Before they were Colonials, the freshmen found success on the court individually.
Nolan, an area recruit from Mount Carmel high school in Baltimore, has flashed his athletic talents since he was in his early teens, and averaged a career-high 17 points per game to go along with six rebounds and five assists per contest in his senior campaign.
The Colonials pounced on the athletic wingman after he rescinded a commitment to play at Tennessee Chattanooga, following the departure of former head coach Matt McCall, who took a job at the helm of Massachusetts.
“I think like a day after, coach called me on the phone,” Nolan said. “The whole 25-minute conversation was just full of energy and passion, and that clicked in my mind.”
Nolan will have the chance to see McCall again when the Colonials face off against the Minutemen on the road in February, a game he said he looks forward to.
Both Jack and Mazzulla have basketball in their genes. Jack’s mother Felisha was a former star for the Syracuse women’s basketball team and is now the head coach of the women’s team at the University of Buffalo.
Jack is the kind of spot-up shooter the Colonials desperately needed following the transfer of then-sophomore guard Jordan Roland and the graduation of guard Matt Hart.
Mazzulla, on the other hand, takes after his brother Joe, a strong defensive player who played a key role on a West Virginia team that made it to the Final Four in 2010. The two faced off in GW’s only public exhibition game Saturday where Mazzulla scored six points and the Colonials defeated Fairmont State 86–63 – where his his brother serves as head coach.
“That’s the mentality of our family, hard work,” Mazzulla said. “That’s where I got it from.”
His time in the Nike EYBL AAU league exposed him to some of the bigger post players that guards tend to encounter in the college game, an experience he used to help him understand when to utilize a simple bounce pass, or a floater over longer forwards, he said.
Joseph said Mazzulla’s toughness and ability to distribute the basketball from the point guard position prepared him for college basketball.
“I need to score when I’m able to score, but not play outside of my role,” Mazzulla said. “I work hard on the defensive end and just destroy whoever is in front of me.”
At 6-foot-9, Langarica has followed in the footsteps of other European stars who can play from the perimeter and knock down jumpers. He has made a commitment to get stronger in preparation for the battle in the trenches, adding 20 pounds to his frame, Joseph said.
Joseph said his continued maturity and understanding of the pace the team wants to play at will be crucial for his personal growth moving forward.
“We’re ready,” Jack said. “I’ve worked for this moment my entire life. It’s going to be fun and exciting, and I can’t wait to see what the season brings.”