For the first time in at least 21 years, men’s basketball enters the season without a returning player who averaged double-digit points.
The lack of depth in offensive power corners the team into relying on players who are largely untested in the Atlantic 10 to pick up the slack.
Year after year, the Colonials have had reliable, high-scoring players including 2018-graduate forward Yuta Watanabe and former graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh, who averaged 16.3 and 18.3 points, respectively, to carry the offense in their final year at GW. The program’s 2016 NIT Championship team was carried by the senior trio of forward Kevin Larsen and guards Patricio Garino and Joe McDonald, who together averaged 35.2 points per game.
But this year, the team lost 67 percent of its offensive output in the offseason – the third year in a row roughly two-thirds of the Colonials’ offense has walked out the door. Unlike in previous seasons, there is no single player who is the clear option to shoulder the scoring load for the men’s team.
With the team’s top returning scorer averaging single-digit points, GW’s offensive production will be more spread out than in past seasons among players who have yet to test their mettle on the floor, head coach Maurice Joseph said.
Watanabe was called upon to start all 33 games last season to make up for the exit of Cavanaugh and went on to average 5.1 more points per game than the next Colonial on the roster.
This season when it’s crunch time and the team needs quick points, Joseph tabbed sophomore guard Terry Nolan Jr. and redshirt junior guards Armel Potter and DJ Williams as players he would feel comfortable taking the shot down the stretch for GW.
“The fact that I can’t answer that with just one particular guy is a good thing for us this year,” Joseph said. “Now I feel like we just have a greater wealth of talent.”
Nolan is the team’s top scorer returning from last season, where he averaged 9.1 points per game as a rookie and 3.2 rebounds while Potter and Williams sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. The redshirt duo has been practicing with the program for a year now, but their training has yet to translate on the court.
Nolan reached double-digit scoring totals in 12 contests last season, but also scored five points or fewer in five conference outings.
Potter and Williams both have two years of college basketball experience under their belts and may provide the answer to the team’s scoring deficit – but both are just as unpredictable. Williams was never a heavy scorer at Illinois and Potter averaged double-digit scoring at Charleston Southern, a Big South school, but has not been tested against A-10 opponents.
Junior guard Jair Bolden, who transferred out of the program in April, was the only Colonial other than Watanabe to average double-digit points last season with 11.2. Then-graduate student forward Patrick Steeves rounded out the top three averaging 9.9 points per game for GW.
“We’re working right now to develop that go-to person, but right now our style of play has changed from last year to this year because we have different players, different people, more agile people,” sophomore guard Justin Mazzulla said. “Scoring by committee is going to be beneficial because we’re going to be better on defense.”
Nolan and Mazzulla also have the potential to be scoring threats for the team this season after improving their shooting game over the summer and working on their offensive play, Joseph said.
Mazzulla said the Colonials will play to their strengths by running offense in transition instead of running sets to get one person the ball to score.
Of the 2,225 total points GW scored last season, about 43 percent were picked up in the paint. But the Colonials’ offense looks to be even faster on the court compared to last season, when GW amassed double-digit fast break points in seven games.
Joseph said Potter can use his speed to find his way into the paint and penetrate defense to find the hoop while also capitalizing on the long-range shot.
“I can score the ball from all three levels, three-point, mid-range, finish at the rim,” Potter said. “We have a few players who can score the ball in different ways.”
Williams, who dropped a team-high 15 points for the Colonials in their exhibition game against Catholic last month, said the versatile guards and forwards in rotation should create points for GW despite lacking one go-to person.
“For us it’s not going to be one person because we have so much depth, the focus isn’t on one person,” Nolan said. “I think other people will step up so I don’t really think that we have a go-to scorer because we’re all capable and we’re all depending on one another.”