Jamion Christian is far too focused on this season to spend much time looking back over his first two years as the Mount St. Mary's men's basketball coach. When pressed, though, he concedes the Mountaineers arrived at the NCAA tournament ahead of schedule when they won the NEC championship last spring, two years removed from an 8-21 campaign under the old regime.
“You do take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, it was a pretty amazing journey.’”
Several of the key players from that journey are gone, however. The Mountaineers lost 60.4 percent of their scoring, 72 percent of their assists and 61.4 percent of their steals when Julian Norfleet, Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott graduated. But this hardly shapes up to be a rebuilding year in Emmitsburg. The Mountaineers figure to have more size, athleticism and depth than in Christian’s first two years. The coach expects to continue to bring the “mayhem,” the moniker he uses for his team’s pressing defense and fast-paced, 3-point shooting offense.
“I think we have more guys that can play how we want them to play,” Christian said of his 17-man roster.
Two of them junior transfers Chris Martin (Marshall) and Andrew Smeathers (Butler). Both are wings who can run the floor and hoist outside shots. The 6-foot-7 Smeathers transferred after last season had already begun, so he isn’t eligible to play until the ninth game of the season. But Martin should be in the starting lineup when the Mountaineers opens Nov. 14 at No. 2 Arizona.
Inside, Mount St. Mary’s returns 7-foot junior Taylor Danaher and 6-11 sixth-year senior Kristijan Krajina, who could spell each other at center or be paired together on the court at the same time. Another frontcourt lineup option has 6-7 junior Gregory Graves or 6-6 sophomore Will Miller, who scored a career-high 21 points in the NCAA loss to Albany, at power forward. The Mount also has four freshmen who are 6-7 or taller. Christian said all the size around the rim and the length on the wing will mean fewer easy baskets and a lower shooting percentage for MSM opponents.
The biggest question mark heading into the season appears to be at point guard, ably manned by Norfleet the past two seasons. Combo guard Byron Ashe (who reached double-figures in scoring 11 times last year as a freshman), redshirt freshman Charles Glover (who is coming off ACL surgery) and freshman Lamont Robinson (the shortest player in the country on a Division I roster at 5-5) are likely to share the minutes at the point, at least early in the season.
“I love our trio of guys,” Christian said. “We're going to let that play out.”
Christian knows there could be some growing pains early as new and veteran players learn to play with each other against a challenging schedule that includes only three home games before January and features matchups against Wake Forest, Seton Hall and Notre Dame in addition to the opener at Arizona.
The rest of the league isn’t expecting a Mount repeat. The Mountaineers were picked to finish fifth in the 10-team NEC in the preseason coaches’ poll. But they were picked ninth two years ago, when they reached the NEC title game, and sixth last year. Christian said he didn’t see the prediction as a slight.
“I take it as a sign of respect given us by the league,” he said, “when you consider what we lost.”