Freshmen on men’s and women’s basketball adapt to expanded team roles

Media Credit: Courtesy of the GW Athletic Department

With regular forms of contact no longer permitted under COVID-19 protocols, basketball has taken on a more important role in the lives of freshmen student-athletes.

Despite an unorthodox men’s and women’s basketball season, freshmen have become staples in both squads’ lineups.

On the women’s side, center Ali Brigham, forward Caranda Perea and guards Aurea Gingras and Piper Macke average a combined 21.2 points – about one-third of the team’s points per game. On the men’s side, guards Lincoln Ball and Tyler Brelsford and center Noel Brown have stepped onto the court for a combined 33.5 minutes per game, with Ball and Brelsford finding spots in the starting rotation.

After transitioning from high school to college, all six interviewed freshmen – Brigham, Perea, Gingras, Ball, Brelsford and Brown – said they needed to adjust to the speed and strength of the college game.

“There’s a big difference from being 18, then being 22 years old,” Perea said. “The physicality of the game was definitely a big adjustment.”

Perea said basketball has been one of her and her teammates’ major outlets as players remain sequestered together during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said college basketball has a bigger role in her life than high school basketball did, and the pandemic has emphasized the sport in her life even more.

“With the pandemic, you’re more involved with everything, and you’re around basketball more,” Perea said. “You think about it more because that’s the only thing that you get to do to keep us safe as well.”

Perea said her will to win and her high basketball IQ have benefitted the team this season. Gingras, who has played minutes at the point and averages 23.5 minutes on the court, said she brings “energy on defense,” and her ability to handle the ball has provided another set of hands to run the offense.

Brigham said her 6-foot-4 frame gives the Colonials a height advantage inside and her ability to communicate on the defensive end can assist in coverage. Brigham added that she wants to continue improving on finishing her close range shots.

“Especially just finishing around the basket, there’s just a lot of opportunities that I’ve had that should have gone in,” she said. “And I think that comes with strength and just having more games under our belt.”

The trio have already made an impact on the court. Brigham has been in the starting lineup seven times this season, and Gingras and Perea average more than 19 minutes a game. Against Richmond, the trio combined for more than half of the team’s points, and Brigham netted 18 as GW collected its first road win against George Mason.

The freshmen have also leaned on the upperclassmen for guidance. The trio said they look toward veteran players, like graduate student guards Jasmine Whitney and Sydney Zambrotta and redshirt junior forward Neila Luma, for basketball advice and support as they make the transition from high school ball to college.

“[Whitney] has been a really amazing mentor for me as a freshman point guard coming in,” Gingras said. “She’s been there every step of the way to give me support, give me confidence. We watch film together, so it’s been really special having her be willing to do that for me.”

On the men’s team, Brown said he has looked to graduate student guard Brandon Leftwich as a more experienced teammate to talk about games, practice and the process of growing and making the right on-court decisions throughout the season.

“I’m still learning how to use my patience on the court,” Brown said. “When I get the ball on the short roll in the paint, I’m making a smart decision and not rushing myself has probably been the biggest one. We work on it a lot in practice.”

Ball, who has started five contests, said head coach Jamion Christian has big expectations of what each newcomer can achieve, but he understands that the college game is still new to the trio.

“He knows that we’re trying to figure it out and learn and that we’re freshmen,” he said. “He expects a lot from us, but he knows that we’re going to have to learn and make those mistakes to learn, and he goes about in a very encouraging way.”

Brelsford and Ball are averaging more than 10 minutes a game, and Brown averages six minutes a contest. Together, the freshmen average 5.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Brelsford recorded a career-high eight points and five rebounds in the Colonials’ loss to VCU Wednesday.

The freshmen said they’ve made strides this season in their individual play and their ability to keep up with the pace of the game. Brelsford added that he has improved his defense to boost his minutes on the court. The guard earned his first start of the season against Dayton Sunday.

“Especially as a freshman, the only thing that’s really going to get you on the court is your defense, for the most part,” Brelsford said. “I knew for me to get on the court, I was going to keep my guy in front of me and not be a defensive liability and show the coaches that I belong on the court.”

The squads will return to action Wednesday. The women’s team will take on VCU at 4 p.m., while the men’s team will play Dayton at 7 p.m.

Nuria Diaz and Will Margerum contributed reporting.

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