Before the Mount St. Mary’s University men’s basketball team faced Brigham Young University earlier this season, Jamion Christian didn’t have any problem picking his role on the scout team offense.
The coach wanted to be BYU scoring machine Tyler Haws.
“So I could get a lot of shots up,” the 31-year-old Christian said in a telephone interview.
Playing on the scout team is one of the advantages of being the fifth-youngest Division I-A coach.
The hands-on approach in Christian’s second season leading the Emmitsburg, Md., school resulted in an NCAA tournament berth Tuesday night after winning the Northeast Conference tournament.
“There are some people who coach for 20, 25 years and they don’t get an opportunity like this,” Christian said.
Virginia Commonwealth University Coach Shaka Smart sent one of the first congratulatory text messages. Christian was an assistant at VCU in 2011-12 and considers the coach a mentor. That’s why Mount St. Mary’s “mayhem” style may look familiar. Smart, after all, used his up-tempo “havoc” to reach the Final Four in 2011.
The Mount St. Mary’s version features the same suffocating defense and rapid-fire 3-pointers. It presses and traps. It wants to wear out opponents. Christian’s twist is to recruit players who are scorers first. Defense can be taught.
Whether Christian is running the scout team’s zone offense, as he did Monday, or chatting about life and academics in his office after practice, the coach wants to relate to his players.
“I tell our guys I love them every day,” said Christian, who graduated from Mount St. Mary’s in 2004 after three years as team captain. “There are a lot of hugs and smiles in our program.”