There are 148 days before men’s basketball tips off its 2018-19 season, but the team is already buckling down and preparing for play after finishing last season with its first losing record in five years.
The Colonials’ 7–11 record in the Atlantic 10 placed them 11th in the field of 14 after finishing at least sixth for the last four years, but head coach Maurice Joseph said he will use this summer to continue building up the program in his third season at the helm.
“The year we had last year was not the expectation for us,” Joseph said. “We have high expectations for ourselves and our program and in order to get to where we want to be we have to work towards that and do it relentlessly every single day throughout the summer.”
Joseph said the team will be working on shooting the ball more effectively, improving team defense and securing the team’s lineup for next season over the summer after losing its top-three scorers.
About 55 percent of the team’s total points came from the trio of 2018-graduate guard Yuta Watanabe, 2018-graduate forward Patrick Steeves and junior guard Jair Bolden, who announced his transfer out of the program in April. Together, they combined for 1,223 of the team’s 2,225 total points.
Watanabe – the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year – scored 538 total points, 179 more than Bolden in the number two spot.
“When you have a player like that, you don’t replace him with any one player,” Joseph said. “You make up for what he brought to the table by committee.”
Last season, the Colonials shot 32.1 percent from beyond the arc – the second-lowest three-point shooting percentage in the A-10 – and their 67.4 points per game average was better than just two other opponents in the conference.
Despite losing the team’s top-two three-point shooters in Watanabe and Bolden, Joseph said sophomore guard Maceo Jack, and senior guards Armel Potter and DJ Williams, who both sat out last season as transfers, will enable the team to work on its shooting over the next few months and fill in the holes in shooting distance.
“We’ll be fine shooting the ball from the outside,” Joseph said. “I think we’ll be fine in that regard simply because of the personnel that we’re adding that people haven’t seen last year.”
On the defensive end, GW averaged a conference-leading 4.9 blocks per game while grabbing 10.6 offensive rebounds per game.
Junior forward Arnaldo Toro averaged a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game, followed by Watanabe’s 6.1 boards and Steeves’ 5.3 rebounds per game average.
Incoming freshman forward Marcus Littles should play a significant role under the hoop in the upcoming season to help shoulder the rebounding load with Toro.
“He’s a big body, almost like an old-school two-five man who has soft hands and a really nice touch around the basket and a knack for rebounding,” Joseph said.
While the duo of Toro and Littles will have the primary responsibility of grabbing rebounds, Joseph said the entire team will need to adopt a “gang mentality” and each play a part in crashing the glass during the upcoming season.
“I’d rather have a bunch of scrappy guys ready to scratch and claw for every 50/50 ball, every rebound that comes off the glass,” Joseph said.
The Colonials are set to return 10 players from last season’s roster while adding three rookies and a transfer to the mix.
The team’s four sophomores – guards Justin Mazzulla and Terry Nolan, Jr., sharp-shooter Jack and forward Javier Langarica – are part of the team’s young core that Joseph said he wants to develop over the years.
“They had a tremendous spring, getting bigger, stronger, faster, all that stuff and starting to work on taking their games to the next level,” Joseph said. “That’s something we’re doing again with those guys here this summer, is really trying to elevate their games.”
When July rolls around, the team will be joined by freshmen, including guard Shandon Brown and forwards Mezie Offurum and Littles.
The head coach expects the leadership and experience of Nolan and Mazzulla – who both found themselves in last year’s starting lineups – to act as leaders on the team, he said.
“I feel good about us being able to make up for what we lost with Yuta on both ends of the floor just because we have the depth, talent and now the year experience under our belt in order to do that,” Joseph said.
Despite last season’s shaky performance and losing key players in the lineup, Joseph said having a young team with a lot of returners will help set the program up for more success down the road and a potential A-10 Championship title.
“Our focus is getting better, moving forward and getting ready to attack next season with a relentless energy, relentless enthusiasm and passion about coming out and competing every night,” Joseph said. “That’s how we’re going to train on the court, that’s how we’re going to train in the weight room and that’s how we’re going to move forward.”