Mazzullas to Clash as Colonials Host Fighting Falcons on Saturday

About 40 family members will be in attendance Saturday to watch Justin (left) and Joe (right)
Nov. 1, 2017

By Eric Detweiler, GW Athletics Communications

Justin Mazzulla is a morning person. Not that he didn't need a little help to get there.

His father Dan has long begun his day with a 5 a.m. wake-up call, the early start necessary to tackle an ambitious schedule as parks and recreation director and three-sport high school coach in Johnston, R.I.

When older brother Joe set his sights on Division I basketball as a teenager, pre-dawn workouts became part of the plan to achieve that dream.

Eventually, it was Justin's turn.

"That's just the type of culture that we have," said Justin, who is 10 years younger than his brother. "We all work hard. We're all hard-nosed people that are going to fight for what we want."

Justin put in the hours to follow that family blueprint on his way to George Washington. The freshman guard is set for a memorable debut Saturday afternoon at Charles E. Smith Center.

There will be a Mazzulla on each bench and about 40 family members and friends in the bleachers when Joe leads Fairmont State (W.V.) in his first game as a college head coach against Justin and the Colonials.

"It's going to be a great time for our family," Joe said. "I've missed a lot of Justin's development and the special moments in his high school career and just family events in general with the schedule that I have, so it's great for all of us to get together and share in the start of new journeys for both of us."

It's no surprise the brothers took so passionately to the game. The Mazzulla family basketball roots run deep.

Dan was a star at Johnston High School and Bryant before playing professionally in Chile. He later coached their sister Gianna in high school, too.

Joe came first, leading Bishop Hendricken High School to three straight state titles from 2004-2006. The scrappy guard went on to help West Virginia to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, finishing with a Final Four run in 2010.

As Joe was blossoming into a college prospect, Justin was just starting to form his own hoop dreams.

Early on, Justin looked forward to halftime of Joe's games when he could entertain the crowd with his dance moves. By the time Joe moved on to West Virginia, the little brother was an astute fan eager to hang around the gym at every chance.

Looking back, Justin couldn't have asked for a better role model to follow.

"I would see him be exuberant out on the court -- pounding his chest, slapping the floor, taking charges," Justin said. "Those type of things made me want to love the game like that, too."

Justin has those elements in his game, but he carved out his own legacy at Bishop Hendricken. The 6-foot-3 guard fueled the Hawks to three state titles, including back-to-back crowns to cap his high school career.

Justin signed with GW last November, a few months after being named Rhode Island's State Player of the Year.

"I'm proud of Justin," Joe said. "He's a great young man of character. He's really worked to create his own identity, his own purpose, who he is as a basketball player, and I think he's found a great spot at George Washington."

Joe played a part in that growth. He made the transition to coaching right after his playing career ended, starting with an assistant gig at Glenmont State (W.V.) in 2011.

Justin began spending part of every summer in West Virginia with his brother. He appreciated the chance to be far away from the distractions of home and the way Joe put new-school twists on many of the fundamental drills their father had preached growing up.

Naturally, the brothers started their first workout of the day at 6 a.m. They usually went back to the gym around noon and then again in the evening.

Joe's practices were designed to hone Justin's dribbling, passing and shooting, but also to give him the intangibles he'd need at the next level. He pushed Justin's limits every summer, which is exactly why he kept coming back.

"It was a great experience because you got to spend quality time with your brother and also get a great workout in each and every day," Justin said with a grin. "Or two or three workouts."

Saturday's exhibition matchup fell into place last spring, shortly after Joe landed the Fairmont State job.

He'd spent three years with the Falcons as an assistant to Jerrod Calhoun before moving to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League last season.

When Calhoun left for Youngstown State after guiding Fairmont State to the Division II National Championship game, Joe was tabbed to take over the Falcons. At 29, he's among the youngest college head coaches in the nation.

"It's truly amazing to see him as a head coach," Justin said. "From my standpoint, I see all the little things with the way he works and how much he loves the game. If you know him, you know that he sacrificed a lot to get where he is."

For Maurice Joseph, putting this exhibition on the schedule was an easy call.

The GW head coach got to know the entire family well in the recruiting process and wanted to help. He played against his brother, Kris, in the NCAA Tournament, so he's excited to give Justin a similar experience.

"I'm just going to tell him to make sure that he enjoys it and that he soaks it all in," Joseph said. "Hopefully, this will be a memory for them that they'll be talking about for a long time."

No doubt, Saturday marks an important opportunity for both Mazzullas.

Joe knows GW will offer a useful measuring stick for his group with an eye on eventually making another deep postseason run, while Justin gets another chance to state his case for a role in the Colonials' rotation as he continues to adjust to the college game.

That they'll get to do it on the same court with a slew of supporters in the crowd makes it even more special.

"It's amazing because who would have thought that one day something like this would even be possible for us?" Justin said. "It just shows that we both worked hard to get to this stage."