Ben Criswell, staff writer
In Coach Dave Paulsen’s first year at Mason, the Patriots finished with an 11-21 record, 5-13 in conference. This was a slight improvement from the 2015 campaign, when the Patriots ended the season with nine wins. Still, the Patriots took impressive strides this season to build a winning program.
Paulsen came to Mason this year with a strong track record, having built winning programs at both Williams College and Bucknell University.
At Williams, Paulsen lead the Ephs to a Division III championship in 2003 and a championship runner up finish in 2004.
At Bucknell, Paulsen tallied four regular season championships and two conference tournament championships in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Paulsen brought this winning and process-oriented mindset to his first year as the men’s head coach.
“You can’t be so obsessed with results that you don’t embrace the process,” Paulsen said of his first year at Mason.
That process is in its infant stages, but the Patriots have shown proof of it this season in games against some of the premiere teams in both the conference and around the nation. Wins against Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Davidson College and, the most exciting win of the season, in the eyes of Marquise Moore, Virginia Commonwealth University show a team capable of competing with the country’s strongest teams .
The men’s team did, however, struggle in a few areas this year, which is to be expected under any first-year coach. As a team the Patriots shot just 29 percent from three-point range, a statistic that has become essential to any winning program. Part of that low percentage, in Paulsen’s eyes, was due to some of the players’ making the transition from high school to college basketball.
Three freshmen, Jaire Grayer, Otis Livingston and DeAndre Abraham, led the team in three-point attempts while adjusting to the speed of the college game and the shortened amount of time a player has to release his shot.
While Moore and Livingston were both effective in drawing in the defense, the Patriots as a team were not as effective at converting these kick-outs into made shots. Shooting, no doubt, will be just as big of an emphasis during the Patriots’ practices this offseason as it was during the regular season when the team spent significant time shooting during practices and workouts.
Out of necessity, the Patriots will likely use more of a guard-heavy offensive style and possibly a four-guard lineup more often going into next year. Mason favorites Shevon Thompson and Marko Gujanicic will both be graduating at the end of the year, forcing the Patriots to adopt a new style of play.
Marquise Moore, guard, will be taking on more of a leadership role next season as he enters his senior year.
“I’ll definitely have to be more vocal as a leader,” said Moore. He also hopes to try to build on the developing chemistry displayed over the course of this season.
Moore was sidelined for four consecutive games after an ankle injury received during a game against Richmond in February. This limited Moore physically for the rest of the season.
Paulsen said he was proud of the team’s development throughout the year, especially Livingston and Grayer’s play. The two freshmen were essentially thrown into the fire of Atlantic 10 play and responded admirably. Routinely, the two guards were tasked with guarding the opposing teams best offensive option, and coach Paulsen noted that he liked the way the two competed.
Livingston played well enough to be nominated to the conference’s All-Rookie Team.
Jalen Jenkins will also be thrown into a bigger role as he transitions into his senior year. Jenkins played well, particularly in Moore’s absence when the Patriots went to a bigger lineup.
While he plays hard on the floor, Jenkins foul percentage needs to be lowered for him to benefit the team more.
“He fouls at an absurdly high rate,” Paulsen said.
Off the court, Paulsen is looking to bridge a gap between the teams relationship with the school and community.
A focus of this offseason recruiting-wise will be the current sophomore and junior classes. A foundation of Coach Paulsen’s philosophy is building relationships with players and coaches in order to create a winning environment — something he attributes to his early years coaching under past University of Michigan Head Coach Steve Fisher, who now coaches at San Diego State University.
“If you keep knocking on the door, that doors going to open.We have really blanketed the area. [We’re] going to games and working really hard with the current junior class and the current sophomore class,” said Paulsen.
Mason alumnus, Kris Brown, said he thinks the program has room to grow and a bright future.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Brown said in reference to the team.
The foundation is there, and next year will be a good indicator of the direction the program is headed. The expectation from the players and coaches is that this team can compete with the very best in conference. More so than wins or losses, the development of the team and the effort of the players are the barometers of how well this team will do.
If Paulsen’s previous success is any indication of things to come, the future looks bright for Patriot basketball.