The Class of 2024 joined the men’s basketball program as the ongoing pandemic shook college sports – and now, they’re trying to adjust to high expectations on the court.
Center Noel Brown and guards Lincoln Ball and Tyler Brelsford round out the youngest additions to the squad’s roster that boast eight new faces set to take the court. Despite the added protocols of the pandemic, like living in a bubble and attending school online, head coach Jamion Christian said the trio are progressing at a “natural” rate and are learning to tackle the ups and downs associated with collegiate basketball.
“We just ride those highs and lows and help them try to understand that, but every person on this roster was in their seat before,” Christian said. “It’s not going to be perfect, and learning how to handle the highs and lows becomes really important, and I think they’re doing a great job of learning how to handle that.”
Athletic department spokesperson Brian Sereno declined to facilitate interviews with freshmen student-athletes.
Christian said the freshmen are learning about the ins and outs of the team’s systems and style of play, and they have shown strengths and weaknesses each day in practice.
“Most of these freshmen are along the same lines, picking up some things really quickly and behind on other things, but that’s pretty natural,” Christian said. “Nothing is going on with these freshmen that we wouldn’t have anticipated.”
The Class of 2024 continued GW’s trend of recruiting student-athletes from the DMV, as Ball and Brelsford hail from Maryland and Brown grew up in Virginia. Nine of the 16 members on the current roster come from D.C., Maryland or Virginia.
Brown is the first center in the program since Collin Smith played one season for the team during the 2016-17 campaign. At 6 feet, 11 inches tall, he is the tallest Colonial on the roster.
Brown averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game as a senior at Flint Hill High School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Christian said Brown is a player who “scores it at a ridiculous level all the time.”
Brown is one of seven players on the squad who stand 6 feet, 9 inches tall or higher, and Christian said the size and reach of those players will help the team get stops on the defensive side of the ball.
Ball averaged 16.4 points per game in his senior year at Williamsport High School in Williamsport, Maryland, before being sidelined with a broken bone in his foot. Christian said Ball has impressed him so far with his “tenacious” work on the defensive end.
Brelsford adds another backcourt option for the Colonials. He is a potent shooter from beyond the arc, and Christian said he is a “dynamic” player who has impressed him during preseason practices.
The Colonials are deep at the guard position, returning key contributors in the form of senior guard Maceo Jack and sophomore guard Jameer Nelson Jr. Sophomore guard James Bishop, a transfer from LSU, is immediately eligible to play and is expected to be the team’s primary ball handler.
Last year, Christian frequently utilized a starting lineup that featured three freshmen: Nelson, Battle and forward Chase Paar. This time around, he said it is too soon to tell what role Brown, Ball and Breslford will play throughout the season.
Christian said he holds each player to the same standard regardless of their age, but the young trio have been learning quickly and can help the team be successful.
“They’re really smart,” he said. “They fit our system. They can really learn from the guys that are a little bit ahead of them right now.”
Nelson said he and sophomore forward Jamison Battle have been looking out for the freshmen because the duo were recently first-years themselves. He added that while the team’s preseason training hasn’t been affected by the pandemic, the team is spending more time learning the offense and defense.
Battle praised the winning mindset of the freshmen, saying they are boding well with the returning core and transfer additions.
“All of them have been on winning teams,” Battle said. “They know the culture that we’re trying to build here. They’ve seen it, and they’ve been part of it. Coach is trying to bring guys who are winners – I think they’re winners.”
Jack led the squad in minutes played last season and is the longest serving player on the roster. But he said he understands what it’s like to be a new arrival to the program and trying to find his footing at the collegiate level, which helps him guide the current crop of freshmen with empathy.
“We just have to help them with any of the things they are going through that we’ve seen in them and try to help guide them through as best as we can,” Jack said. “We obviously can’t hold their hand, but we want to be people that are going to be there when they need some advice, or you need someone to help them through it.”