Paulsen praises Patriots’ experience
A year ago, Dave Paulsen and Co. at George Mason saw a record showing in nonconference competition descend into a trying journey through Atlantic 10 play.
The Patriots, with a Dec. 21 win over UMBC, set a record for nonconference wins since moving to Division I in 1979. They moved to 11-1. But, weakened by injury and an illness, they wound up going 5-13 in league play.
After making it through that, though, Paulsen is welcoming back a wealth of returners for 2020-21 — healthy and a year more experienced. He has seven players who started double-digit games in 2019-20 back.
Gone is Justin Kier, a standout whose 2019-20 was severely shortened by injury and who transferred to Georgia for his final year. Still, Paulsen considers his current group the deepest, most experienced and most versatile team he’s ever had at George Mason.
“This will be our best team since I’ve been at George Mason,” Paulsen said, during George Mason’s A-10 virtual media day session Tuesday.
The Patriots also lost Goanar Mar (Northern Iowa) and Jason Douglas-Stanley (Manhattan) to transfer. But they have 11 returners total. Newcomers include four freshmen.
A potential shot in the arm will come in the form of fifth-year senior Ian Boyd as well. Boyd missed the entirety of last season with a wrist injury. He notably made game-winning shots in three-straight contests during a February stretch in 2018.
With so much continuity in personnel, chemistry is always going to be there, senior forward A.J. Wilson said. Everyone already knows how each other plays, and the freshmen are getting acclimated to the playing style, he said. Each of the Patriots knows where teammates like to be on the floor.
“Like when [sophomore point guard Xavier Johnson] drives, he knows where I’m at. I know what A.J. likes to do. We know each other’s tendencies,” senior guard Javon Greene said. “And I feel like that will help us a lot. Late-game situations, you know who to go to, you know what they like to do.”
Greene was George Mason’s leading scorer last year with 13.8 points per game. He also averaged a team-high 1.8 steals and hit a team-high 62 3-pointers. Paulsen said that Greene has had a great preseason to this point. He said Tuesday that the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder had a “phenomenal” last week in practice, because he’s just played simple, not trying to carry too much on his shoulders.
The Patriots will lean on Greene, Wilson and junior guard Jordan Miller — but not exclusively, Paulsen said.
Wilson, 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, made a substantial leap last season. It was his first year as a starter, and his minutes almost tripled, to 27.8 per game. He averaged 12.2 points and 7.4 rebounds, improvements of 8.5 and 4.8, respectively, over 201819. He set a single-season school record for blocks, with 92. He was named the A-10’s most improved player.
Wilson said he feels the biggest thing that helped him was his preparation — getting in before practice, staying after, getting up shots, watching film, working on his basketball IQ.
The game has slowed down for him, he said.
“Just carrying that into this past season I feel like that really has helped me, because I saw everything already on film,” he said.
Miller had his redshirt removed midway through his freshman season and has produced since. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds last year. Listed at 6-foot-6, 202 pounds, Paulsen said Miller has bulked up 10 pounds this offseason.
Johnson and junior Jamal Hartwell II can each command the point, and can share the floor, too. Hartwell was slowed by illness in A-10 play last season.
Paulsen’s high evaluation of his 2020-21 team comes with the caveat of uncertainty. He saw it last year when things nosedived after a winning start. But based on what he’s seen, he has his best-ever roster in Fairfax as he heads into his sixth season.
“You want to be old as a team in the A-10. You want to be deep as a team in the A-10. And we’re both right now,” he said.