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Jamion Christian’s “mayhem” defense and regional familiarity will boost George Washington

Jamion Christian is soft-spoken. His defensive scheme is anything but that.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Mount St. Mary’s v Villanova Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The George Washington basketball program is coming off its worst season since 1988-89. The Colonials’ 9-24 record and 4-14 conference record in the Atlantic 10 signaled the end of Maurice Joseph’s reign in Foggy Bottom — a far cry from the team’s 10 NCAA Tournament bids between 1993 and 2013.

With a program nestled within a very competitive recruiting area and connected to a very passionate fan base, GW needed to find someone who can take advantage of what the program has to offer.

It took them less than a week to find that guy.

Jamion Christian was their pick. George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc said the 37-year-old stood out during the interview process because of his energy and optimism as a leader.

NCAA Basketball: Mount St. Mary’s at West Virginia
Coach Christian during his time at Mount St Mary’s
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

And there’s a reason to be optimistic when Christian leads a program. He turned Siena into one of the nation’s most improved teams in 2018-19: The Saints went from winning eight games the previous season to 17 games. Before that, he turned his alma mater Mount St. Mary’s into a threat in the Northeast Conference. The Mountaineers saw two NCAA Tournament bids and a 2017 First Four win during his time there.

He’s known for his “mayhem” defense, which is focused on full-court pressure, trapping teams and forcing them to turn the ball over.

This new rebuild may seem difficult to others, but Christian’s advantage is his hometown roots. Jamion Christian is a native of Virginia. He grew up watching local teams and, ironically, George Washington was one of those teams. Leading the program and coaching in the area intrigued him. In addition to that, his brother Jarell soared during his first season as head coach with the Capital City Go-Go, the Washington Wizards’ NBA G League affiliate.

His roots are deep in the area and he’s not afraid of the challenge of coaching within is backyard.

”I love the challenge of things,” Christian said. “I’m excited for that challenge.”

The challenge is great as Christian is taking over a program with eight newcomers on their roster. Two of GW’s top scorers from last season transferred before his arrival as well. With the turnover and new faces, many would count this year as a rebuilding year with low expectations. But Christian is confident.

”The goal is to get the best out of our group,” Christian said. “The coach who does it the best has a chance to win a championship.”

The Colonials have a solid group of returners at his disposal. Arnaldo Toro is a 6’8”forward who scored 22 points and racked up 18 rebounds against Howard last week. Toro missed the majority of last season with a hip injury. Maceo Jack is a sharpshooter who led GW in three-pointers last season as a sophomore, while averaging 11 PPG and started in 28 contests. Justin Mazzulla started all 33 games last season and will have a solid role once again.

His newcomers will play huge roles as well. Jameer Nelson Jr. is the son of the 14-year NBA pro Jameer Nelson. He’s contributed immediately in playing heavy minutes as a starter. He also nearly clinched a double-double against Howard. Jamison Battle was a semifinalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball title. His hype has proved to be real as he’s been hot from three-point range to start the season. Three-star recruit and eighth-ranked player from Maryland, Chase Paar also will be in the fold.

Like Paar, there’s a wide array of great players within the region. Christian knows that and wants to take advantage of it.

”We are going to do a great job at staying at home,” Christian said regarding his future recruits.

Staying home is key, just like establishing team trust. During his introductory press conference he said, ”We can’t go very far if we don’t trust each other [and] if we don’t love each other.”

Christian understands that it’s a collective effort. Defensively, his scheme takes numbers to execute. That translates to assists and increased collaboration on the court. Overall, team unity and trust is key to his ways. It’s proven within his success.

In person, Jamion Christian is upbeat and polite. His defense is upbeat, but aggressive. And in due time, George Washington basketball will benefit from both its head coach and his defense.