No tough love: Christian prioritizes connections as head coach, colleagues say

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

Head coach Jamion Christian's colleagues said he aims to foster a family-like team environment.

Coaching was in Jamion Christian’s blood at an early age.

He spent his formative years in New Kent, Va., living on the same street as his extended family. As the oldest of the bunch, Christian said the responsibility fell on him to teach his younger family members how to play games like basketball and baseball.

Christian said he always favored basketball growing up, pointing to childhood memories of watching college basketball games and using the advanced level of play as motivation to improve his game. Over the years, he developed and refined his coaching skills, later taking on more formal roles on teams like at his alma mater Mount St. Mary’s and Siena before stopping at GW for his first season.

“I’ve kind of been coaching forever,” Christian said. “I’ve been coaching since I was like, 4 years old or something, just trying to get everybody up to speed and be able to play games and play competitively.”

In high school, Christian ran the point on New Kent High School’s undefeated Group A state championship team in 2000, according to the Daily Press.

He played collegiately at the Mount from 2000 to 2004, seeing time in 90 games and averaging 6.5 points per game. Christian said he realized his aspirations to become a coach during a rough patch in his junior year. He said his head coach benched him, but he was still determined to get better and see time on the floor.

“I went through the summer, I really worked,” Christian said. “When I was working that summer, I worked at some basketball camps and did some things, and I realized I enjoyed the process of improving – that’s what coaching is.”

He said Kirk Sonny, one of Christian’s coaches at Mount St. Mary’s, took him under his wing and showed him how to watch and analyze film. Sonny acted as a mentor for Christian, guiding him while he navigated high-level play, he said.

“He had me start cutting some film up for him and it was great, and I just felt like I had a real role in that,” Christian said. “I really learned a ton from him.”

Christian said he progressively became more involved in the coaching realm while still playing at Mount St. Mary’s, speaking up in scouting reports and offering insight that helped his team win.

After graduating, he took on his first coaching gig at Division III Emory and Henry College as an assistant. With two years under his belt, he transitioned to Division I basketball, becoming the director of basketball operations at Bucknell and then an assistant at William and Mary.

He worked as an assistant at VCU for a season before finally landing his first head coaching position back with Mount St. Mary’s in 2012. Under his leadership, the Mount won two Northeast conference championships and made two NCAA tournament appearances.

Christian spent six years with the squad before moving to Siena for the 2018-19 season. The Saints finished the year with a winning record and as the runner up in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Now, Christian is joining a team with a recent history of disappointment. At GW, Christian said he is trying to foster a culture of support and emphasizing education, which aligns with his coaching philosophy of demonstrating “love” over “tough love” for the team to ensure players are not discouraged by setbacks.

“If we do a good job of loving them up, then that’s going to allow them the platform to be able to fail time and time again and know that they can recover to be even better the next time,” Christian said.

Graham Bousley, an assistant coach in charge of GW’s offense, has been on Christian’s staff since 2016, when he served as an assistant coach at Mount St. Mary’s.

Bousley said Christian’s philosophy as a coach is connection driven, adding that he wants to develop a bond that resembles family ties. Christian invited the team to his house over the summer as a way to get to know players on a personal level, he said.

“He’s a relationship-based coach,” Bousley said. “He’s a mentor and I think that’s the biggest part of his philosophy. It’s all about family. It’s all about the relationships he develops with the players, and he’s able to mentor them through the highs and lows.”

Bousley added that Christian keeps an open-door policy where coaches and players can pop into his office anytime they want to talk to him or hear his honesty about their performance.

“Our players do that, coaches do that,” Bousley said. “I really don’t think there’s any difference. What you see is what you get. He’s very straightforward. He’s going to tell you the truth if you want to hear it or not.”

Assistant coach Ryan Devlin, who leads the defense and post plays, also has a long history with Christian. The two have known each other since they were teenagers, Devlin said.

The two had mutual friends, as Devlin’s high school friends were basketball managers while Christian played at Mount St. Mary’s. Devlin said the two would play pickup games at the Mount over the summer and built a strong relationship throughout the years.

Devlin said Christian has immense emotional intelligence and is willing to go the extra mile for his players, realizing when they need help and doing everything in his power to assist them.

“He just has a good level of understanding of where people are, what their needs are and then instead of saying, ‘Hey can I help you out?’ – he actually does go out of his way,” Devlin said.

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