Mustang Boys Await Start of Season at Stuart

GUARDING their men are juniors Max Ashton (right) and Hollman Smith (center) during last season’s 2A Regional home opener against Stuarts Draft High School. (Photo: Carol Sly)

The season has yet to begin for George Mason High School’s boys basketball team, which will open the year at the Raider Tip-Off tournament at J.E.B Stuart (Justice) High School tonight.

Still, the team’s two scrimmages in previous weeks give a solid indicator of how the season’s early goings will play out. According to head coach Chris Capannola, there will be some growing pains, especially with the conversion to a more aggressive style of defense.

“It’s very difficult to get kids to play full court defense when they’re all used to playing in the half court. The natural tendency is to run back after you make a basket rather than running forward and picking up your man immediately,” Capannola said. “It’s going to take a lot of time for the players and the coaches to be confident enough to go to that type of pressure for an entire game, or even for extended stretches.”

The switch to a pressure-based defense is an effort to get more teams to succumb to traps, turnovers and, subsequently, easy buckets in favor for Mason.

Whether the transition to an aggressive defensive philosophy is purely preferential or is an attempt to shore up a weaker part of the Mustangs game is yet to be determined, but one’s thing for certain — the new defense will be much more physically demanding on Mason. The team’s ability to ensure that the defense is effective hinges on how much effort is put into each and every one of their opponent’s offensive possessions.

Offensively, as stated in the preview last week, the Mustangs return virtually 100 percent of their scoring from the previous year.

Juniors Max Ashton and Hollman Smith and senior Anish Chatterjee look to continue their offensive chemistry in their second year of starting together at the varsity level. All three are capable of getting to the rim, as well as creating their shot on the outside, so there aren’t many expected fluctuations in that respect.

As is always the case, the goal is for them to produce at a high level consistently.

That’s all the more important since they’re not only the key offensive engines this season, but they won’t be catching anyone by surprise with their talent as they did during the early portion of last season. It’s time for them to own their designation as leaders.

The only thing Capannola wished was different about the scrimmages was that the opposing teams — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology and Riverside High School — had brought pressure of their own.

Mason was often frazzled when confronted with a full court press last season, and Capannola wants to be sure that chink in the armor isn’t quite as gaping as it was.

Other than that, the team is looking ahead to a stout opening stretch of the season.

“Our early schedule is very ambitious, and we will either sink or swim against the athletes we’ll be facing judged by how we handle pressure defenses, both full court and half court. I’m excited to see what we can do over the next few weeks,” Capannola added.

Mason opens the season against 6A Chantilly High School as a part of the Raider Tip-Off tournament tonight.