Dave Paulsen’s first season at George Mason was all about laying a foundation. In his own words, there was a long road ahead for the program.
“The challenges to construct the type of culture I want and is conducive to winning,” Paulsen told the Washington Post last January, “were harder and more deeply rooted than I anticipated.”
The first steps were taken in 2015-16, with three freshmen averaging at least 20 minutes per game. Here’s a look at the team Paulsen will roll out in the 11th season since the Patriots month in the spotlight.
- G: Otis Livingston II (sophomore)
- G: Marquise Moore (senior)
- G: Jaire Grayer (sophomore)
- G: DeAndre Abram (sophomore)
- F: Jalen Jenkins (senior)
Key Reserves: G Kameron Murrell (sophomore), G Kamari Newman (freshman), F Troy Temara (freshman), F Danny Dixon (sophomore), G Ian Boyd (freshman), G Justin Kier (freshman).
Projected Finish: A-10 Poll: 12th, KenPom: 13th, Mid-Major Madness: 13th.
If Paulsen had a menu to choose from over the offseason, he’d have ordered shooting. Bowls and bowls of shooting. The Patriots were woeful from the field last season, ranking 328th as a team in effective field goal percentage, and hitting just 29.2 percent of their three point attempts.
The struggles might have come in part because the bulk of George Mason’s backcourt minutes went to freshmen. With that comes the silver lining that now-sophomore guards Otis Livingston II (34.3 minutes per game), Jaire Grayer (29.3 mpg), DeAndre Abram (20.6 mpg) and Kameron Murrell (11.6 mpg) will grow from experience.
Livingston II led the team in points scored and minutes played, had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and Paulsen has continually praised his leadership. He’s the program’s clearest building block, and will be joined again by senior guard Marquise Moore (32.5 mpg). Moore also struggled shooting the ball last season, but is a good playmaker and a great rebounder for his size.
Three freshmen guards join the program to create a suddenly crowded backcourt rotation. Kamari Newman comes in with a reputation as a shooter, and should immediately help fill that need on the perimeter. If he’s able to adjust quickly, it may be hard to keep him off the court. He’s got confidence, if the quote below from the Detroit Free Press is any indication.
"They already had a plan for me as a freshman,'' said the 6-foot-4 lefty who'll be a Mr. Basketball candidate this season. "As a freshman, I could come in and have a chance to play right away. I watched their practice, and they didn't really have a lot of scorers on their team. I knew that's what they needed.
The other two freshmen guards flew further under-the-radar. Ian Boyd didn’t play AAU and chose to stick with basketball relatively late, with a football offer in hand from Virginia Tech. Paulsen thinks that he and Justin Kier, the first player from his high school to play Division I basketball, could be steals. If nothing else, Paulsen has plenty of options.
The frontcourt is a different story with the loss Shevon Thompson (9.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and Marko Gujanicic (9.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Senior Jalen Jenkins (7.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and freshman Troy Temara will likely rotate as the lone big in a four-guard lineup, as Paulsen tries to exploit the Patriots’ backcourt depth.
Jenkins is coming off a season where he played the fewest minutes in his career (21.4 mpg) and struggled with foul trouble. But he’s a solid rebounder with plenty of experience that will be vital for this team. Temara is a two-star prospect from upstate New York that Paulsen thinks has big upside. He’ll be thrust into an important role right away.
Paulsen’s best teams at Bucknell, the ones that made his name nationally, played at a slower pace and were anchored by an elite post player (Mike Muscala). He’ll need to win, or more appropriately, compete, with a much different style this upcoming season, especially with Thompson gone.
The Patriots will need a number of things to break just right to escape the lower-tier of the A-10. But recruiting is going well, as Paulsen already has a commitment from talented 2017 wing Goanar Mar. With so many young players getting experience early, the program is laying the foundation for some solid teams in the near future.
According to Paulsen, it’ll just take a little more patience.