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The GW Hatchet

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Christian leans on past coaching success ahead of first season

Hatchet File Photo
Head coach Jamion Christian previously headed basketball teams at Mount St. Mary’s and Siena.

After enduring one of its worst seasons in recent history – and multiple seasons plagued with turnover and scandal – men’s basketball was in need of more than just a new coach. GW needed someone who could reverse the fortunes of its entire franchise.

That’s when Jamion Christian stepped in as the new head coach, carrying with him past coaching success at Mount St. Mary’s and most recently at Siena. In one season, Christian transformed Siena from a second-to-last-place conference finish to a regular season runner-up, and players and coaches said he has the ability to create the same kind of transformation at GW to lead the Colonials to greater heights.

“I’ve worked for some great guys as well, so I’ve been very fortunate,” Christian said. “My entire journey has shaped what we’re able to do here.”

The 2018-19 Colonials and the 2017-18 Siena squad showed striking similarities prior to Christian’s arrival. In 2017, the Saints went 8–24, one game worse than the Colonials’ 9–24 record last year. The Saints averaged 67.7 points per game, good for second to last in the Mid Atlantic Athletic Conference and a mere four points more than GW’s scoring average last season.

But unlike the Colonials, the Saints made major strides in almost every area during Christian’s season as head coach, improving to a 17–16 record and going from a -7.5 scoring margin to a -1.4 margin.

Now, Christian again finds himself at the helm of a team in desperate need of improvement. The Colonials won a scant nine games last season and ranked dead last in the Atlantic 10 Conference in points scored per game.

Christian said both Siena and GW had trouble living up to their potential and fully realizing the talent of their rosters.

“They’re very similar,” Christian said. “I think we’ve had talented guys that were here that maybe underperformed the year before. I don’t want to say underperformed, but were underutilized.”

Along with Christian, freshman guard Shawn Walker Jr. de-committed from Siena to join the Colonials, and sophomore Sloan Seymour transferred to GW after one year with the Saints. Christian said he was “fortunate” to inherit the returning players at Siena and GW.

“I’ve walked into programs where guys can play, and you just redirect them a bit,” Christian said. “I think these situations are very, very similar.”

Players like junior guard Maceo Jack and senior forward Arnaldo Toro fit Christian’s description of “underutilized” pieces. Despite improving considerably in the final stretch of the season, Jack started the season averaging 4.3 points per game. Toro missed the majority of last year because of a hip injury but is now healthy and ready for competition.

Prior to coaching Siena, Christian headed Mount St. Mary’s from 2012 to 2018. He led the Mount to two NCAA appearances during his tenure.

In his six seasons with the Mount, the team dipped below .500 just twice. He led his team to 101 wins and earned a .515 career winning percentage. The squad excelled against conference competition under Christian, winning 63.1 percent of its contests against Northeast conference foes.

The squad’s three-point shooting increased from 33.8 percent in Christian’s first year to 37.9 percent in his final year at the helm. The team’s assists also increased from 12.2 to 14 per game.

Christian said working as an assistant coach for Shaka Smart at VCU and Pat Flannery at Bucknell provided him with examples of how to lead successful programs.

Smart garnered a .749 win percentage at VCU, and Christian watched him lead the team to a Colonial Athletic Association championship and Sweet Sixteen NCAA Tournament run. Flannery coached the Bison for 14 seasons, earning a .568 win percentage.

Upon announcing Christian as the new head coach, athletic director Tanya Vogel said Christian had the ability “to build a sustainable program that is in the national conversation again soon.” Six seasons ago, the Colonials enjoyed 20-plus regular season wins and NCAA appearances.

Junior forward Ace Stallings, who was a freshman when Christian coached at Mount St. Mary’s, said playing for Christian in the past has given him more confidence in the upcoming season.

“While we do look at how he’s had success in the first year at Mount, first year at Siena, it’s definitely given us some optimism,” Stallings said. “I think that we’re just focused on improving ourselves each and every day. And so I think that’s something that he’s definitely encouraged us to do.”

Assistant coach Graham Bousley, who worked with Christian both at Mount St. Mary’s and Siena, said Christian has firmed up his philosophies around offense, defense and pressing throughout his years as a head coach.

He added that Christian’s experience allows him to assess players on the court easily and quickly, and each year, he betters his offensive and defensive strategies.

“Every year you’re a head coach, you refine it a little more or learn a little more and hone in on your style, on your message,” Bousley said.

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