Sophomore guards Terry Nolan Jr. and Justin Mazzulla occupy the same position and bring the same infectious energy to the hardwood – but the men embody nearly opposite styles of play.
Mazzulla, the team’s ball handler, plays a gritty and defensive-minded game centered around hustle and constant energy, while Nolan, the team’s top returning scorer, has a smoother flow to his performance. But together, the duo feeds off each other’s energy on both sides of the floor.
“When we’re together, it’s great,” Nolan said. “The way I play, the way he plays, we both have one common goal and that’s just to win.”
Head coach Maurice Joseph said Mazzulla is the “ultimate glue guy” who will defend any position on the floor and do the “nasty things” the team needs to win games.
“He’s always going to do the gritty things, he’s always going to do the tough things,” Joseph said. “That’s who he is, that’s kind of ingrained in his DNA.”
Mazzulla – a captain for the team this year – ranked third on the squad last season with 67 assists in his freshman year despite starting just 11 matches.
In his time on the bench, Mazzulla could be seen slapping the court and yelling at his teammates while waving a towel in the air to rally the squad. Meanwhile, Nolan started on the court from his very first college contest and maintained a cool outward appearance on the floor, letting his polished shooting and defense speak for itself.
Nolan saw more minutes as a rookie, averaging 29.4 per game and making 31 starts. The second-year starter has the potential to be one of “GW’s all-time greats” and he fine-tuned his skill set even further over the summer, Joseph said.
“He’s been able to kind of refine his game and become a little bit more polished as opposed to just athletic and talented,” Joseph said.
The duo balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can rally the team behind the central force they create when running up and down the court together.
“When we play together, our chemistry is just phenomenal,” Nolan said. “Because of our chemistry in the backcourt, it kind of brings together everyone else.”
As sophomores and two of the team’s more experienced returning guards, Mazzulla and Nolan are likely to see more time together this season while contributing to a guard-heavy lineup that prioritizes tough defense and a fast-break offense.
Teammates said with Mazzulla and Nolan at the top of the key together, they’ll remain a cohesive unit that carries the same intensity, but carves out specialties on opposite sides of the court.
“They bring a lot of energy, positive energy, especially on the defensive end that translates to the offensive end,” junior forward Arnaldo Toro said. “They’re just fun to play with because you have fun, you enjoy the game and good things happen.”
Redshirt junior guard Armel Potter said Mazzulla’s style of play is driven by his energy, and that motivation can be seen translated to Nolan when they are on the hardwood together.
“Mazzulla is a real energy guy, he plays off of that, getting defensive stops and everything,” Potter said. “He can get guys like Terry Nolan going.”
Nolan said the trust between him and Mazzulla on the court can be attributed to a close bond stemming from their start at GW together. The connection allows the two to rely on each other, be honest on the court and push each other when they know the other can do better, Mazzulla said.
“Me and Terry play well together because we’re the same type of people and we just know and have trust in each other,” Mazzulla said. “We always have that click and that bond and it’s so powerful that we don’t even need to say anything.”
Joseph said both Mazzulla and Nolan are on track to making significant jumps in their level of play this season after improving their shooting and ball handling during summer workouts.
“They spend a lot of time together on and off the court, I feel like it’s going to be really good,” Potter said. “It’s going to pay off at the end in the future.”