Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Don't be too discouraged by the very long year that is George Mason basketball
There's a Frank Sinatra song when the crooner sings about it being "a very good year."
We promise George Mason fans, your very good year is coming.
It hasn't been a very good year in terms of wins and losses for the Patriots (7-19), who have won just once in 2014 under first-year coach Nylan Milleson. A defeat of Atlantic 10 bottom feeder UMass on Feb. 12 gave the Patriots their first victory in their new conference.
"I absolutely cannot fault our kids' efforts and their attitudes day in and day out," Milleson said. "Fortunately I have not had to endure many of these type of seasons. But you would not walk into our gym, walk into our shoot-arounds, watch us warm up and know we've only won seven games. They continue to work hard; they continue to bring energy. We continue to teach, and they continue to learn. We're laying the groundwork, and we knew it was going to be a process."
* "If we could have won a couple of more games in our nonconference," Milleson says. ".We won some, but there were some where we had leads and were up late. Confidence is such a funny thing when you're struggling. We don't have enough confidence." The Patriots suffered overtime losses to Maryland-Eastern Shore and Delaware State in nonconference -- they also fell to Richmond in OT -- and were beaten by UAB by three.
* "Two things that have haunted all year: points off turnovers and rebounding. "When you don't shoot it well, you're not able to create a lot of easy buckets for yourself," Milleson says. George Mason ranks 294 (among 343 D-I schools in turnover margin and 310 in scoring defense. The Patriots are last in the A-10 in rebounding defense and 11th in rebounding margin).
* Lack of depth. "There have been many, many games we have run out of gas. We don't have enough pieces," notes Milleson.
* The miles. The Patriots spent 38 days on the road in December and traveled 5,000 miles.
The bright spots:
* Redshirt sophomore Taylor Brown (18.1 ppg, 114 assists, both team bests) and junior forward Sandra Ngoie (12.7 ppg). Neither played a minute last year.
* Jasmine Jackson (5-9 junior guard from Georgetown) and Kristi Mokube (6-2 junior forward form Florida State) are in the wings "chomping at the bit," Milleson says. They will be eligible for the 2014-15 season.
* "We've been beating the path trying to find better players. On that note, the Patriots signed four early: Cyndi Cole, a 5-5 guard from Indian Creek High in Crownsville, Md.; Casey Davis, a 6-2 forward from Seton High in Bladensburg, Md.; Taylor Dodson, a 6-0 guard from Spotswood High in Penn Laird, Va.; and Qierra Murray, a 5-8 combo guard from Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore. Murray, Davis and Cole all played for the Maryland AAU Pride program.
* The coming offseason with Milleson and her staff intact to be there from start to finish. "The development has to take place there. We were here for a little bit of it last year, but we not enough to have made a difference."
* Milleson. She is three wins shy of 300 in her 14 seasons as a head coach. Milleson laid the foundation at Drury, where she led the scratch-built team to five Division II NCAA Tournament appearances in seven years. At Missouri State, it took Milleson two years to record back-to-back 20-win seasons and lift the Bears atop the Missouri Valley Conference. Building a program takes time, but Milleson promises, "We're going to get there."
A side note:
George Mason has not had a winning season since 2003-04, when the Patriots nearly upset Old Dominion in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament (a game that stuck with JenDev too long). That was the last time the Patriots were part of the postseason -- a first-round WNIT loss.
Remember this, too. Milleson lost four starters when she inherited this team, including Amber Easter (9.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Rahneeka Saunders (10.9 ppg) and Joyous Tharrington (6.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg). (Kudos to senior forward Janaa Pickard, too, the lone starting returning, who averages 13.8 ppg and a team-best 8.6 rpg.)
As far as the growing pains Milleson referred to, we know they're something Radford's Mike McGuire and William and Mary's Ed Swanson can relate to, as both coaches are also in their first season with new teams. On a look-how-great-a-second-year-can-be note, consider what Marlene Stollings has done in two seasons at VCU.