Q&A with Maurice Joseph
Colonials are in the midst of their first week of team practice
With practice officially underway, GWsports.com caught up with head coach Maurice Joseph to get his thoughts on the Colonials as they prepare for the 2017-18 season. GW returns four players with starting experience from last year's squad which went 20-15, and welcomes nine newcomers, including four freshmen, three transfers and two walk-ons.
How do you feel heading into preseason practice?
MJ: Lot of excitement. New group, bunch of new faces, very athletic group that’s going to allow us to play a little differently than we did last year. Exciting to finally get going and put the pieces together. We have a talented group of freshmen and transfers, a couple of them sitting out but Bo Zeigler will be eligible as an experienced guy who is adding a new dimension to our team that we didn’t quite have last year. Very excited to get going here.
While this team does have a good deal of youth, you have some experienced leaders in Patrick Steeves, Yuta Watanabe and Bo Zeigler. How have they brought the young guys along so far?
MJ: They’ve been great thus far in workouts, on the court, in the weight room. Their experienced leadership has been vital for our young guys kind of getting a benchmark for what’s expected from a work ethic standpoint. Those guys have been great leading not just by example, but with their voices as well. They’re going to need to continue to do that through the month of October as we gear up for scrimmages and exhibition games. With practice starting now, it’s going to be a different animal than what our young guys are used to. They’re going to need to continue leading, continue leading by example and with their voices. Pat’s been great, Yuta has grown as a leader and Bo has come in since day one and been a tenacious competitor and leader.
What’s the biggest strength of this team?
MJ: So far the biggest strength our team is our athleticism, from top to bottom. We’ve had some athletes in the past but we haven’t had this amount of athletes, especially in the back court. We do have some length and athleticism in the back court, which has been really nice to see. The second piece is how good we are with versatile, interchangeable defensive pieces. We haven’t had that in the past; we’ve had bigger guys who can only guard really one position. We have four or five guys on this team that can guard four positions, and maybe two that can guard five positions. That’s huge when you’re scouting and you don’t have to be so specific about who can guard who. Our athleticism has really been a bright spot so far.
How do you replace Tyler Cavanaugh’s scoring?
MJ: Anytime you lose a player as talented as Tyler Cavanaugh, you’re not going to replace him with one guy unless you’re lucky enough to get another player of that caliber. What you have to do is understand as a team is that it’s going to be by committee. You’re going to have to be better defensively to limit teams to fewer points, and then do it by committee on the offensive end by everybody stepping up their game some, Yuta taking a step forward, Pat taking a step forward, Jair taking a step forward. You’re not going to replace the scoring of a Tyler Cavanaugh, but we do believe our defense is going to be a notch higher than last year, especially at the start. It’s going to be our bread and butter. It’s what we’re going to hang our hats on, and it’s going to lead to easier buckets in transition, open jump shots, and things that we didn’t necessarily get last year because we played at a slower pace.
What does this team have to focus on to be successful?
MJ: It sounds cliché, but for us, it’s going to be defense. We have athletes, we have some gritty guys, we have some tough kids, guys who are willing to get their nose bloodied, their hands dirty and play some defense. We have all that. Now, we have to put it all together from a team aspect. That’s going to be my thing all year. We’ve got to understand who we need to be in order for us to be successful this year and we know we’ve got to be a very hungry, aggressive and relentless team. They know the offense is going to come; we’re going to work at it, but we need to be relentless defensively. That’s going to be our bread and butter.
With it being Yuta’s last go around as a senior, have you seen an increased sense of urgency from him?
MJ: He definitely has an increased sense of urgency. He knows he’s going to have to carry a bigger load offensively this year, so he’s been a lot more assertive in workouts and from what I’ve been told in pickup games, which is very refreshing to hear. He’s always been a guy that plays tough and with a sense of urgency and gives a lot on defense, but he’s taking it up a notch and has been a lot more vocal. You can tell his confidence has risen knowing he’s going to be asked to do more offensively and knowing he’s one of our leaders and this is his last hurrah.
What’s something people don’t know about this group?
MJ: How tough we are – and rightfully so – because I think that since we have so many new guys, they don’t know what the character of these guys are. I think Justin Mazzulla has the potential to be a Patricio Garino-esque defender. He already has the tools, grit and savvy on the defensive end to be there. Bo Zeigler is a new guy who is a little bit of an unknown but plays unbelievably hard. He’s very competitive and emotional, a guy that’s going to block a shot on one end and then run and get a dunk on the other side. So he plays with energy and passion. Terry Nolan is very talented, has a knack for scoring, athletic ability, just has a natural way of having a basketball savvy that you can’t really teach. Once he has more coaching he’ll learn how to fine tune all that natural ability into systemized talent that we’ll need to run sets and from a scheme standpoint what we’re trying to accomplish. A lot of people just don’t know our personnel, what we’re about, just because we have new guys. I’m very excited about the guys we do have because with our identity and what we need to be to be successful. I think we have the personnel to reach our goals come January, February and March.
Speaking of the freshmen, three of them are guards but they’re all very complementary of each other.
MJ: Right. Maceo is a very coachable kid, he’s a coach’s kid, so he really understands the game, has a high work ethic, already knows where he needs to be and understands the game at a high level because of his upbringing. Terry Nolan is a big-time athlete who has a knack for scoring the ball. Mazzulla isn’t as polished offensively but extremely tough on the defensive end and a facilitator offensively. They all have the ability to make plays at the rim. They all have the ability to make shots at a varying degree. But three different pieces that are all ready to contribute off the bat which is refreshing because sometimes it takes freshmen a little bit of time, and it will take them time, but they have really great foundations that we can work off of.
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