Friday, November 4, 2016

Wagner sticking together to win it all through attitude

Wagner's banner season should carry over in minds of opposing coaches, who tabbed Seahawks second in Northeast Conference preseason poll. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

By Jonathan Reyes (@werdynerdy)

Former four-year Wagner veteran forward Josh Thompson remembered one experience at Wagner right away that he sees as shared with his teammates and family in being a part of something bigger than anyone: beating the Pitt Panthers in their own Petersen Events Center, who Thompson recalled being ranked No. 15 in the country at the time.

What it took to achieve what seemed prior to that game as a daunting task was Thompson and his fellow Seahawks knowing they had to go onto the Panthers’ home court and believe in each other. By doing just that, they made it come true through playing the game the way they always did.

Despite finishing up his Wagner career, three years later Thompson said he still follows the team. Aside from being a proud alum, his reasoning is fifth-year head coach Bashir Mason. Thompson played under Mason in his final season in 2012-13, Mason’s first at the helm, and had him as an assistant coach under Dan Hurley from 2010-11 through 2011-12; Thompson’s sophomore and junior years, before Hurley departed for Rhode Island and left the program in the care of Mason, who at 28 was the youngest head coach in the nation upon his hire.

Why Thompson’s relationship with Mason has clung to him to this day is Mason’s pushing of Thompson to live up to what his expectations were of him and their shared mindset of passion, grit, mental toughness and winning. So all Thompson could feel last season when he saw his Seahawks win the Northeast Conference regular season championship, despite losing in the championship game to the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, was “extremely proud of the program.”

“I felt just as a part of it watching as much as if I was a player,” he added, “because of knowing and having a close relationship with Bashir, Mike [Carey], Marquis [Salmon], Scotty [Smith, assistant coach] and a few other players I’ve actually had the opportunity to do some coaching and be on the court with. Happy to see the guys playing the right way and accomplishing what they did.”

Looking at the team he has in front of him for the new season, Mason said becoming better defensively and in rebounding is a current issue, but as with anything else, practice will shore that up. There’s another part that can’t be coached: “Leadership and buying into the implemented system,” as Thompson put it.

He said how that comes together is if the older players hold themselves accountable to play the right way and help the younger ones toward taking their individual game to the next level. Overall, it’s about making sacrifices.

“Chemistry and understanding each other,” Mason said, “especially in some really difficult moments during games and at the end of the season is going to determine us making it back to the final game again and winning it. If there’s growth in these guys as individuals and us as a team, then we’ll be okay.”

“Relentless, relentless, going after it every day,” Carey said. “Our non-conference schedule is going to help us. You have to, again, be relentless and also very detail-oriented. Being a professional athlete isn’t just hoisting up shots and getting buckets. Everybody has a role and you do yours well, it’s a team aspect by moving the ball well. It all equates to winning.”

That’s when Mason’s mantra of attitude comes into play. Yes, it’s a word, but to the fan it is. To Mason and his Seahawks, it’s “everything,” Thompson said. Specifically, it’s five executions that can be made on the court: Defensive deflections, offensive rebounds, taking charges, diving on the floor and assists, according to Mason.

“It’s the intangibles that equate to winning,” Carey said.

With a week left until tipoff at UConn Huskies in the November 11 season opener, Mason said his Seahawks aren’t focused on just the word of attitude. He said they’ve now added two more words to it: “Attitude next play.” He explained it as whatever happens during a game the distraction is being excited to win and losing confidence in actually pulling one off. Instead all thoughts should be toward “the next play and being better in the next situation.”

“I want us to really, in the non-conference, commit a bunch of upsets,” Carey said of his expectations for the early part of the season. “I want to show people that the NEC is really underrated, I kind of thrive off of that. When I go into those teams’ gyms, I don’t care if you’re UConn or Providence, those programs are built on past guys. So they’re going to have to prove themselves.”

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