BROOKLYN, NY – Paul Hewitt knew this would not be easy. By his candid admission, the George Mason mentor expected the school’s first season in Atlantic 10 play to be a challenge. It was a challenge, and more.
“The Atlantic 10 was more than I estimated,” Hewitt said at the conference media day. “Six teams getting into the NCAA tournament, that’s a premier league.” George Mason finished 11-20 last season. Their conference record was 4-12 with the season ending with a first round conference tournament loss to Fordham.
A few less turnovers, handling the perilous minutes of crunch time – these are a few things that could have altered the Patriots’ season. There was a tough loss to eventual A-10 champion Saint Joseph’s. A near-upset of first place Saint Louis on the road. Two notable examples of what could have been.
Reflecting, Hewitt was pleased how several young players grew. He especially lauded the competitive nature of Jalen Jenkins and Marquise Moore. A 6-7 redshirt sophomore, the 6-7 Jenkins scored 7.2 points per game. Of greater importance was a team-leading 186 rebounds and 31 blocked shots that he registered. Moore, at 6-2, is a sophomore guard. The Queens, NY native scored 3.9 points per game. His value lies in 69 assists, second on the team, against 40 turnovers. The pair represent part of a young nucleus Hewitt is counting on to upgrade the program in conference play.
When Hewitt was a Villanova assistant, he referred the Big East as an “A-1” league, in reference to the top of the line steak sauce. Other conferences, such as the Atlantic 10 back then, were a notch below. Hewitt would tell recruits if you want to fully enjoy a steak, you choose the best steak sauce available. The same should be regarding the choice of school and conference affiliation He was asked at media day if he thought the current A-10 was worthy of “A-1” status. “Without a doubt,” he answered in an enthusiastic tone.
The lessons of last season serve well as an effective teaching point. If the effort wanes in practice, there is a simple reminder to his players what the league stands for competitively, and as Hewitt adds, “You must be prepared for every situation.”
The Atlantic 10 has proven a boost in recruiting. Hewitt light-heartedly said when he rode the New York subway in the morning, no one knew who he was. In a serious tone he added how the league draws attention to a more talented group of recruits. They hear George Mason and the A-10 affiliation. Realizing what the league has done, especially the past March, suddenly the attention and interest has been secured.
The Patriots lost three starters from last year. Having a good recruiting group (four freshman and a junior college transfer) on board plus utilizing the experience gained from the first go round in the conference, Hewitt sees more competitive days on the horizon. Regardless, the Atlantic 10 proves a tough task on a nightly basis. Improvement requires a full time commitment. As Hewitt remarked, “This is just a great league.”