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New Mount St. Mary’s coach hopes to bring the program back to its recent winning ways

June 7, 2012 Columns No Comments
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A lot has changed for Jamion Christian over the past year. A year ago at this time, he was an assistant coach at William & Mary. Just before the summer, he would head west to VCU for a similar position, and less than a year later he is now the head coach at his alma mater, Mount St. Mary’s. As you might expect, he’s excited about it for plenty of reasons, and after a couple of challenging years that energy is undoubtedly quite welcome on the Emmitsburg, MD campus.

Christian immediately becomes one of the youngest head coaches in Division I, having turned 30 in mid-April. (New Wagner head coach Bashir Mason is the youngest at 28 years of age.) A 2004 graduate of the school, where he was a three-year captain, he was naturally interested because it’s his alma mater, although he would have been just fine if he were still at VCU.

“I’ve never felt so good about a job I’m leaving behind,” said Christian, who was part of the staff that led VCU to a Colonial Athletic Association championship and a win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Rams have a lot coming back next year, and that along with working for head coach Shaka Smart were perfectly good draws to staying in Richmond. But you can’t blame someone for jumping at a head coaching opportunity, especially at their alma mater.

Mount St. Mary’s had a good run in recent years under Milan Brown, who has spent the past two seasons as the head coach at Holy Cross. During Brown’s last three seasons, the Mountaineers went 54-44, including an NCAA Tournament win in 2008 and a run to the conference title game a year later. The past two seasons under Robert Burke, who resigned at the end of the season after taking a leave of absence late this past season, were not as memorable. The Mountaineers were 19-42 in those two seasons, including an 8-21 mark in 2011-12. Still, Christian, who played for Brown as a senior, sees a lot of positives as he takes over.

“I’m excited about our personnel, because there’s a lot of experience coming back,” said the new head coach. “They fought through adversity all season.”

The Mountaineers will return all but one player from this past season’s team, as leading rebounder and shot-blocker Danny Thompson was the only senior. Thompson will be missed, but they won’t be too small and it means others will have an opportunity. Leading scorer Julian Norfleet will return for his junior season, and Christian is excited about his workouts. Forward Raven Barber will be a senior, and that means he’ll need to be a leader for this team. Christian thinks their style of play will work to his strengths, and in the frontcourt he’ll have a chance to pick up some of Thompson’s production while improving in his own way. Point guard Josh Castellanos started all but one game last season, so he’s certainly not lacking in experience. He will need to continue growing as the floor leader.

Christian said his plan is to play more like VCU than William & Mary. That means they will play fast and depth will be needed, and he looks forward to utilizing that depth as he plans to play a lot of players. They weren’t very thin this past season, but depth is something the Mountaineers will need to develop.

One thing Christian has that many new head coaches don’t get is flexibility with the non-conference schedule for his first season. Not much of it was done when he took over, which means he and his new staff can put together a schedule that they feel will help develop the team well. He figures they will play about three or four games against high-major opponents.

The Mount is still the school where Jim Phelan left a legacy when he retired in 2003 and Brown took over. Phelan won 830 games in 49 years at the school, accounting for more than half of the program’s all-time victories during nearly half of its history of basketball. Now 83 years old, Phelan is still around the campus as he lives nearby, and is in good health. Christian, who played for Phelan at The Mount, has seen him several times since taking the job.

Christian is easy-going, hard-working, energetic and very likeable. Those are all things that have brought him this far, and will carry him and his alma mater forward in the coming future. The last couple of years weren’t what fans in Emmitsburg were used to, but Christian sees a lot of positives now and going forward, describing it as “an exciting time to be at The Mount.”

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