Freshman guard Justin Mazzulla has played single-digit minutes in multiple conference games and averages just 2.2 points on the season.
But over the past week, he has become one of the most utilized members of the men’s basketball roster.
The 6-foot-3 Johnston, R.I. native joined the starting lineup for the first time in his career Wednesday and remained for the Colonials’ contest against Davidson Saturday – combining for 63 minutes during the two outings.
Head coach Maurice Joseph said Mazzulla helped GW match up against talented guard sets on opposing rosters and earned the time through his hard work and team-first mindset. As the Colonials (9-14, 2-8 A-10) have fallen to their worst Atlantic 10 start in nine seasons, the second-year head coach has highlighted his roster’s need to increase its energy and effort.
Although GW lost both games Mazzulla started in, Joseph said the guard has helped the team move in the right direction – and at this point in the season, “you have to have him on the court.”
“He’s one of the guys who plays hard no matter what’s going on,” Joseph said. “He’s the guy that’s going to fight whether we’re up 30 or down 50. He’s just one of those guys who’s gritty.”
Earlier in the year, Joseph had stayed away from lineup changes or major rotation shifts – starting the same five players for the first 16 contests. Since then, he has tried four different lineups.
He said the coaching staff is still searching for the group of players that will best position the team to win.
With Mazzulla on the floor more often, the Colonials often play a smaller and faster style and look to pressure the perimeter on defense. He doesn’t bring the scoring that other guards like sophomore Jair Bolden or freshman Terry Nolan Jr. offer, but instead tries to facilitate the offense through passing and create pressure on the defensive end.
Mazzulla led GW with a combined 12 assists over the team’s two games last week.
“It’s not about points it’s not about shots, it’s not about minutes. It’s about competing and wanting to win,” Joseph said. “That’s why Mazzulla’s playing the minutes that he’s playing, because he doesn’t care about anything, he could score zero points and get three deflections and one charge and be on top of the moon.”
Mazzulla said forcing offensive fouls is one of the proudest parts of his game, focusing on the Colonials’ side of the floor.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Mazzulla had taken 14 charge attempts on the year – more than double the total of the next-highest GW player.
“I’m not really focused on the offensive side because shots will come, shots will fall and the most important part in the game is defense,” Mazzulla said after Saturday’s game. “So if you can’t play defense then you’ll look like tonight.”
Although Mazzulla started instead of Bolden Wednesday, the two have played notable time side by side in recent games and Bolden’s minutes have only slightly decreased. Mazzulla said the duo plays well together because they both have the ability to play on and off the ball at the point guard position.
“It is pretty cool playing beside him because he is experienced,” Mazzulla said. “When I mess up, he’ll be like, ‘it’s alright just get it back next one.’”
Teammates said they have noticed improvement in Mazzulla’s game since the beginning of the season. Graduate student forward Patrick Steeves said he was impressed with how Mazzulla has handled his increased load.
“Obviously he’s going to get better with every rep that he gets in the game,” Steeves said. “If you can keep bringing him along, he’s going to be really big for the team.”
Before earning significant minutes, Mazzulla did not go unseen on gameday. As one of the most vocal members of the team, Mazzulla said he yells to his teammates from the bench to focus on what is next because they have to stay positive during this losing stretch.
Joseph – who is also one of the more active coaches on the sideline – said Mazzulla’s demeanor on and off the court makes him a tough player and one of his most positive additions to the program.
“We’d love to have 12 Justin Mazzullas attitude-wise, that’s just not the game, that’s not basketball,” Joseph said. “If you do have that you probably have a darn good team.”
The Colonials return to action back at the Smith Center Wednesday, looking to snap their four-game losing streak against La Salle (10-13, 4-6 A-10) at 7 p.m.