Building toward consistency: Men’s basketball coach reflects on first year at the helm

Media Credit: File Photo by Sabrina Godin | Staff Photographer

Men’s basketball head coach Jamion Christian led the team to a No. 11 slot in the Atlantic 10 conference.

One year ago, men’s basketball head coach Jamion Christian said he hoped to turn around a struggling program with a culture of trust, accountability and love.

After a full year at the helm, Christian has led the Colonials (12-21, 6-13 A-10) to three more wins and boosted the team three spots in the Atlantic 10 rankings, landing the team at No. 11. Christian said he will now shift his focus to evaluating the five-month-long season, analyzing where the Colonials fell short and building a roadmap for next year’s roster.

“We just want to work through mistakes in the past,” Christian said. “The mistakes in the past allow for a blueprint of how we can be better in the future.”

The Colonials entered the season with an offense structured around three-point shooting and pick-and-roll. GW finished the year ranked second in Division I men’s basketball in points per game from pick-and-roll plays, tacking on 29.6 points. Redshirt senior guard Armel Potter also nabbed top-five finishes nationally in both pick-and-roll passing and scoring, averaging 13.2 points per game from dishing helpers and 8.2 points off the ball screen.

Freshman forward Jamison Battle, who earned a spot on the A-10 All-Rookie Team, and junior guard Maceo Jack led the conference in made triples per game, and Battle broke the single-season three-point record with 89 buckets from deep this season.

But from the three-point line, the Colonials fell short of expectations.

On the season, the squad fired at a .321 clip, a 1 percent increase from last season’s three-point percentage. In the team’s final six-game skid, its three-point shooting shot down to 28.9 percent. The team’s overall offensive production increased by just 1.7 points from last season.

Christian said three-point shooting is an area he and his coaching staff will evaluate before the team hits the gym again next season. He added that he is still exploring why the team’s shooting dropped off, pointing to issues in maintaining tempo or passing as possible culprits.

“For a team that takes 45 percent of our shots from three, we have to shoot 36 percent from three,” Christian said. “We just weren’t doing that at the end of the year.”

In five stretches this season, the Colonials won two straight games, but they could never string together a three-game win streak. GW failed to peak at the right time, entering the postseason riding a five-game losing streak. Its season was over after the first A-10 Tournament game, when Fordham handed GW its third 20-point loss in four games.

Injuries also plagued the squad this season, with nine members of the team missing at least one game and forcing Christian to frequently reevaluate his lineup throughout the season.

“It was challenging, just because you want to be able to build some form of consistency,” Christian said. “I’m a guy who doesn’t change the lineup very often. I think in the last two, three years, I’ve had the least lineup changes in the country, and this year we’ve had to change the lineup a pretty good bit.”

Although the Colonials faced several injuries, they found a starting core of three freshmen – Battle, guard Jameer Nelson Jr. and forward Chase Paar – who clicked with the upperclassman duo of Jack and Potter.

Battle and Nelson Jr. averaged more than 30 minutes on the court, and Paar tabbed 18.4 minutes per game after easing his way into the season from a hand injury.

Paar led the team in field goal percentage, connecting on 63 percent of his attempts. Battle tied with senior forward Arnaldo Toro for a team-leading 167 rebounds, averaging 11.6 points per game and leading the team from the charity stripe, sinking 84.6 percent. Nelson Jr. led the team with 55 steals and finished in the top-three in rebounds and assists, while also notching 10.4 points per game.

Freshman guard Shawn Walker Jr. played significant minutes off the bench, passing 34 assists in 16.5 average minutes of action per game. Christian said the freshmen grew in confidence and began executing plays at higher levels as the season progressed.

“They were comfortable with it and able to recover faster,” Christian said. “And we want to continue to build on that, maintain that level of consistency, level of understanding that it takes to be good.”

Christian added that he expects the Class of 2023 to play “huge minutes” for the team next season and is looking to construct his team around the young core.

The team graduated five seniors – guard Adam Mitola, guard Justin Williams, forward Luke Sasser, Toro and Potter. Ten Colonials will remain on the roster for next season.

Toro, who retained a year of eligibility after missing the majority of the 2018-19 season with a hip injury, entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer along with sophomore forward Mezie Offurum.

The squad will welcome three new freshmen – guards Lincoln Ball and Tyler Brelsford and center Noel Brown – and a graduate transfer forward Matt Moyer next season. Two current Colonials – forwards Sloan Seymour and Hunter Dean – will also enter the court for the first time during the 2020-21 season.

Christian said he is hopeful about the squad’s progress next season and wants to continue building toward consistency. He said the team’s quadruple overtime win over Davidson and its NCAA Net Top-100 road win over Duquesne showed spurts of how the team can gel together and battle for victories.

“When we were playing together, we were locked in together,” Christian said. “We were driving. We were focused. We were a really tough team to play against. There are moments this year we had everybody really pushing in the same direction, and when that happened, we were just so tough to play against.”

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