Mount St. Mary's, led by head coach Jamion Christian, will represent the NEC in the NCAA Tournament next week. At 16-16, they'll more than likely play in the 'First Four' in Dayton, OH, either next Tuesday or Wednesday. Don't let their record fool you, Christian, a former assistant coach under Shaka Smart at VCU, has brought 'Mayhem' to Emmitsburg, MD, the last two seasons, and he'll finally get a chance to unleash that under the bright lights of March.
At the head of the attack, on both sides of the floor, is senior guard Julian Norfleet. Norfleet averaged 17.5 points per game (6th in NEC), dished out 5.4 assist per game (5th in NEC), and swiped 1.6 steals per game (5th in NEC) this season. He recorded his first career double-double at Norfolk State early this season: 31 points and 10 dimes on a super-efficient 11-13 from the floor. It was the beginning of a four-game stretch in which Norfleet averaged 26.8 points per game, 6.8 assists per game, and shot 65.6% from the field. His play didn't go unnoticed, and he was named Second-Team All-NEC at the end of the regular season. Needless to say, this senior can hang with anyone.
As the Mountaineers prepare for Selection Sunday, Norfleet was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Q: Before we chat about the NCAA Tournament, I wanted to ask you a few questions about your career at Mount St. Mary's and this season. You've been there for all four years, two under head coach Jamion Christian. How has he changed the culture (basketball) there, and what has it been like playing for him?
As soon coach Christian came in it changed the program’s culture by bringing enthusiasm back to Mount basketball. The Mayhem style of play energized the whole community because of the fast-pace tempo. He made the game fun to play/watch with his enthusiasm. It's been amazing playing for Coach Christian because he gives the players so much confidence and freedom to play our game within his system.
Q: Growing up were there any collegiate or NBA players that you looked up to? Do you pattern your game after any pros right now?
Growing up, I looked up to my father who played Division II at California University of Pennsylvania. He always taught me how to play the game the right, and not just to score or pass, but to do a little bit of everything. As I got into my later years of high school and college I started to try and emulate my game after Stephen Curry. We have a similar body structure, being slight of build, and he's still very successful. Everybody loves his jump shot, but I mostly admire his ball-handling and ability to finish with both hands equally.
Q: You guys finished 11-7 during NEC play last year and 9-7 this year. Yet, you've made it to the NEC Title game both years - winning it on Tuesday. Are you guys built for these win-or-go-home scenarios more so than the regular season?
I don't believe we focus on the win-or-go-home scenario; our goal at the beginning of the season is to improve each day. Many teams lose that focus throughout the season, but that's all we focus on. We don't focus on records or standings or even statistics, all we look at is how can we get better today and the day after. Because of that mindset, the team that we were in December or January is a much better team in February and March.
There are a lot of great players in the NEC so I don't believe we were slighted, Sam may have been because of all the other intangibles he brings to the team. However, we never focus on individual accolades because nobody ever focuses on who was first or second-team, but everybody remembers who the champions are. Winning a championship is what we put all of our hard work into, not individual awards.
Q: After you guys won on Tuesday, you left the immediate celebration to find your mom in the stands. What was exchanged and what did that moment mean to you?
I was actually looking for both of my parents; my mother was the first one I found, and then my father, and brother next. That moment meant everything to me because growing up I was always the worst player on my team. My parents still came to every game and still believed me. Whenever I would talk about other players he would always ask, "Why can't that be you?" They have supported me all the way through, and I couldn't ask for a better support group. That moment was just me thanking them for everything they have done for me.
Q: It's no secret great guard play is pretty essential if you want to keep dancing. You guys have three senior guards, including yourself, who all bring something different to the table. What kind of bond do you guys have off the court, and how does that translate to the court?
The three of us are extremely close of the court; we always hang out together and we workout together, so that connection keeps us in sync on the floor. We can sort of read what the other is going to do with the basketball and where we need to get to in order to receive the ball. We all trust each other so when things get tough we don't all come running to the ball to try and save the day.
Q: Coach Christian mentioned after the title game that he felt your team could have a deep run if you just made it past the first game. With a likely play-in game selection on Sunday, do you feel like a win could provide some momentum going into the round of 64?
I think any win provides momentum, so I do believe if that's the case, we’ll be rolling into the round of 64.
Q: Final question: with your up-tempo ‘Mayhem’ style, ability to run over 30 plays a game, and pressure defense, how far can this team go in the NCAA Tournament?
Our style of play makes it tough to scout with the numerous plays and amount of pressure we can apply. Having over 150 plays allows us to run things other teams have never seen before, and they can only prepare for a couple of things we're going to throw at them. - Julian Norfleet