New coach, new team

Boys varsity basketball has experienced a revitalization despite losing key players and hiring a new coach.

The basketball team gets ready for their game.

Noel Obusan

The basketball team gets ready for their game. The basketball team plays Central tonight in their basketball game.

Carter Mackinnon, Staff Reporter

The George Mason boys varsity basketball team prepares to play their 15th game of the season against Central (Woodstock) tonight at 7:30 in the pit. After a 19-9 season last year, the Mustangs lost some key graduating seniors, including Max Ashton, Hollman Smith, Jay Nesson, Scott Graffam, Connor Fletchall, Brendan Fletchall, and Seid Lejlic, all having their own impact to the team’s success.

George Mason has a record of 8-6 on the season and comes in at 5-0 in district play. On Thursday, the Mustangs defeated the Hawks of Skyline High School in an overtime thriller. The game was highlighted by a 31 point performance from Bobby Asel (#10) and a 28 point performance from Deven Martino (#24).

Head Coach Mike Gilroy said that graduating eight seniors last year made it a challenge for this year. Only four players returned from the team last year.

“I knew that it wasn’t going to happen in November and December but I was hoping by mid-January, which is where we are now, that we would start gelling and guys would start finding their roles,” Gilroy said. “We found that we got our starting five we know Duncan (Miller) and Ben (Yimaj) are the first guys off the bench. Then we also have four or five guys getting sporadic minutes off the bench but they are earning those minutes.”

Since the team lost their two leading scorers last season the burden for this season fell to juniors Deven Martino and Bobby Asel and they have lived up to the role, averaging a combined 28 points per game. Gilroy emphasized to the team that he didn’t need someone to drop 30 points every game; he wanted more of a balanced attack.

“We have five guys getting around six to ten points per game and we are getting more assists than turnovers, which we are starting to do occasionally. In some of our wins we have had 17 assists and 10 turnovers which I’ll take all day,” Gilroy said.

The team has moved up to VHSL class 3A for basketball and is playing different schools now. Mason is now playing in the Northwestern district for sports.

“The quality of play isn’t different, everyone has capable guys at the 2A and 3A levels. The scouting is different. We still have to travel all the way out to those schools because they aren’t that lenient to giving film out to us,” added Gilroy.

The boys team has four sophomores this season who have contributed: Ben Yimaj, Jameson Smith, Mac Duross, Duncan Miller.

Junior Guard Jack Calabrese stated that the sophomores bring a lot of energy to practice and games, and in particular the contributions of shooters Duross and Smith have helped the Mustangs. In addition to the sophomores, the team also has a new assistant coach in Nate Ogle, a former standout player for Mason.

“Coach Nate makes sure we are staying active in practice, he will come in during practice and play with the red team. He also teaches us new post moves since he played basketball in college and can teach us new things,” said junior Marco Ferrara.

Central (Woodstock) comes into the game with an undefeated record of 13-0. The team is headlined by junior Center Dominic Strother (#10) who is 6-foot 8-inches tall and is a force in the paint. Last season he averaged 16 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season also shooting 65 percent from the field. 

The team also has a senior class of nine players including Alex Neff (#20), who averaged 10.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game last year. Including shooting an astonishing 77.6 percent free-throw percentage. Central also got a transfer from Strasburg in Dylan Hamrick (#1), at Strasburg last year he averaged 12.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.9 steals per game.

Outside of the three-headed monster, the team gets deeper with Kelan Hoover (#30) and Silas Ruhling (#21) and branches out as far as sophomore Ashton Baker (#5) who can shoot the ball really well.

Mason’s big men have been the biggest point of emphasis this year, after losing Johnny Goodwin and Seid Lejlic the roles gone to Seniors Daniel Miller (#5) and Hunter Broxson (#23). Both have filled the shoes perfectly being able to play both ways of the court effectively. As we close out the big men we find sophomore Ben Yimaj (#21). After playing on JV as a freshman Yimaj has really matured as a basketball player, he is able to dunk which we have seen in a couple of games this year.

Keys to success for George Mason is to come out strong the Mustangs are averaging 14.3 points in the first quarter this season. Whereas the Central is only averaging 11 points per quarter. The second thing Mason has to do is rebound they can’t let Dominic Strother get rebounds and get second chance opportunities.

“That’s literally the main goal for us, we have been giving up rebounds all year and we have lost games because of it. We really have to get low and box out and prevent second-chance opportunities,” Yimaj said. 

The team has to stop the backcourt of Central. Alex Neff and Dylan Hamrick are elite scorers in this district and they have to be stopped. If they can keep making three-pointers and getting to the free-throw line then it will be a long night for the Mustangs.

Make sure to come out to the Mason Pit tonight at 7:30 to see Mason face off against Central!