Bolden Ready for Bigger Role as GW Opens Season Friday
The sophomore point guard has stepped into a leadership role for the Colonials, who open their season Friday night
By Eric Detweiler, GW Athletics Communications
Sometime in the countdown to Friday’s season opener against Howard, George Washington head coach Maurice Joseph will pull Jair Bolden aside. “Bluetooth” is all he’ll say, perhaps adding a tap of the ear for good measure.
It’s a clever reminder that for GW’s offense to hit full stride Bolden must be in perfect sync with Joseph, connected on the court as if linked by wireless headsets.
“It’s just another way of him saying for me to be a coach on the court,” Bolden said. “It’s always being aware of what I think that he would think is best for our team in a particular situation.”
That’s a serious responsibility for a sophomore about to play the 36th game of his college career, but Bolden has shown throughout the offseason that he wants and deserves the job. With his words and work ethic, he’s emerged as a trusted floor general for a squad that added nine newcomers.
“He’s a guy that I’ve definitely challenged to take on a leadership role, and it’s been cool to see him grow with it,” Joseph said. “He still has room to grow as a leader, but he’s really taken the challenge head-on.”
At this time last year, Bolden was the one asking the questions. Like any freshman, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native had a lot to learn to adapt to the speed of the college game.
Offense had always come easily to Bolden on the court. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he’d had the physical tools to dominate at the high school level. Now, raw skills and instincts weren’t enough.
To quarterback the Colonials, Bolden had to learn every position on the court, where his teammates were going on each play and why. He had to master the timing and spacing of the offense to give sets a chance to work.
Often the youngster surrounded by veterans, Bolden made his share of mistakes. There were some tough lessons along the way.
“Anything that goes wrong on the court, it’s my fault that we don’t know what we should be doing,” Bolden said. “It’s a hard job to have, but I think the more I work at it and the more MoJo is on me, the better I’m getting at it.”
Bolden earned his way into a starting spot down the stretch last season. After playing no more than 17 minutes in any of GW’s first 15 games, he logged at least 20 minutes in 16 of the final 20 contests. He hit double-figure scoring six times in that span and produced 45 assists against 34 turnovers.
“I was hard on him,” Joseph said. “I know he was frustrated at times, but he handled the coaching really well. It just goes to show you how tough of a kid he is and how good he wants to be.”
Bolden set out to keep building on that progress through the offseason.
For the first couple months of the summer, he worked out at home with his father Joel and his uncle Jamel Thomas, who played collegiately at Providence and briefly in the NBA. They drilled to shore up his ball-handling and shooting and practiced reading defenses.
Bolden arrived back in Foggy Bottom for the second semester of summer school in great shape and feeling more confident than ever before.
Suddenly, he was the one answering questions for his new teammates.
“It just kind of happened,” said Bolden, who has also become an important voice in the athletic department as a representative to the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. “The freshmen came in looking up to me instantly. Even our new guys who are older than me but don’t know the GW way of basketball, all those guys were looking to me for guidance. Just them trusting me and knowing that I can lead them means a lot.”
Bolden said his job is to keep the offense flowing, which means spreading around the shots and understanding the best way to attack the defense on each possession. It’s a tricky line to straddle knowing when to be aggressive and when to defer to his teammates.
By now, Joseph said Bolden has earned the freedom to figure out that balance. Daily conversations – about hoops and off-the-court stuff, too – have helped keep them on the same page.
“We have that open-dialogue, transparent relationship,” Joseph said. “That’s exactly what I want to have with my point guard. It’s been fun.”
On Saturday, Bolden made a strong first impression in his sophomore season when he scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting in an 86-63 exhibition win over Fairmont State. He’s not likely to score that much every time out, but he took advantage of the looks the Division II opponent offered and showed the ability to bury open shots.
While Bolden wasn’t perfect, Joseph saw plenty to build on.
Against Howard, the point guard will get his usual reminder to be synched up – “Bluetooth” – with his coach and then take the reins again in front of the Charles E. Smith Center crowd, this time in a game that counts.
“I’m excited,” Bolden said. “I think we’re ready. I know I’m not the only guy that’s been working really hard this offseason. I think we’re ready as a team.”
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