Kaleel Weatherly, staff writer
The men’s basketball season opener is only three weeks away and new Head Coach Dave Paulsen has been seen around campus trying to get to know the fans, but now its time to get to know him and his team.
Paulsen’s excitment and optimism doesn’t just extend off the court, where he has hosted pizza get-togethers and dressed as George Mason at Mason Madness, but he is also cautiously optimistic about the coming 2015-2016 season.
Paulsen is excited about the progress the team has made in the off-season. However, he also believes the men have a lot of hurdles to overcome in the future.
The team has shown him a group of players who want to improve and willingness to buy in to what he’s coaching.
“Initially, in the spring they were trying to figure out who I was, while trying to figure out who they were. When you have a team that has not experienced much success, bad habits occur,” he said. “And the other thing that usually accompanies losing teams is a lack of trust and accountability. So, we had to work on our accountability and our work ethic and our habits. I think that we are making progress in both of those areas.”
With a new season, new players are also here to follow. There are freshman players on this team like Deandre Abram, Danny Dixon, Kameron Murrell. While recruiting these players out of high school, Paulsen said that they got lucky with recruiting the freshman players.
“I think that we got some good players. More importantly, I think we got some really, really good people, and they fit in. That was the most important thing because I think you win with character and people who buy into your culture. Collectively, I really like this freshman class,” Paulsen said.
Even though Paulsen likes what he sees out of the freshman players, he says that it is too early to predict the roles that each of them will play.
“It’s still a little too early to tell. We will have a closed scrimmage the following two Saturdays,” Paulsen said. “So, we will have three full more weeks before we kind of get a sense of our rotation.”
While some teams in the league focus on specific basketball styles, Paulsen does not have any restrictions on a type of basketball style. The focus is on basketball fundamentals and playing with passion. He wants the Patriots team to focus on character.
“I think it’s more character-based. We want to be the hardest working team in the country. We want to be the most passionate team in the country. We want to be the most fundamentally sound team in the country. And a team that doesn’t beat itself,” he said.
There are also some familiar faces on this team from last season. Paulsen says the thing that impresses him about the returning players is their size. With height to their advantage, Paulsen plans on making sure the team plays big to make use of their size.
Paulsen also highlighted some of the returning players who will be key contributors in the coming season, including center Shevon Thompson who is in his senior year.
“I think Shevon is a dominant presence around the basket. He carves out space well, and he is very good on the glass. I think his motor has gotten better; he’s running better, and he has been very receptive to coach,” he says.
Paulsen praised Mason’s forward Marko Gujanicic for his high basketball IQ, being a vocal leader on the team and his ability to score around the basket. Gujanicic is also in his senior year.
“For whatever reason, he did not have a good year last year. He’s really played well. He has a got a high basketball IQ. He’s a vocal leader, and he has been shooting the ball well,” Paulsen said. “He has the ability to score around that basket and a good low-post game, but he has the ability to shoot the three may be more than what he showed last year.”
Transitioning on to this year and looking back on the mistakes that the team made last year, Paulsen says that the team did struggle in some statistical categories in the previous season.
Last season, the team was ranked 14 out of 14 teams in turnovers and worst in the league in three-point field-goal defense.
“To me, the big thing about last year’s team was that they were last in the league in turnovers,” he said. “It gave up more transition points than I think any team in the league and fouled more than any team in the league.”
But Paulsen said that those mistakes could be fixed.
“I think that more games are lost than are won. And those are things that are correctable, like not turning the ball over and not fouling. You can correct that,” he said.
With the season opener coming up in about three weeks, Paulsen says that his expectation for this team going into the season is to try to get better, play against the game, and embrace the process of improving.
Paulsen said that fans should expect a team that “plays with great passion and energy every single night.”
Mason’s Men’s basketball team kicks off their season against Colgate University on November 13. The game is at Eagle Banks Arena on the Fairfax campus. Tip-off is at 7:00pm.