Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wagner's heart beats to defense, rebounding, toughness and attitude

Connor Ferrell (left) and JoJo Cooper (right) have helped spearhead resurgent Wagner effort as Seahawks continue to prove their mettle during Northeast Conference season. (Photo by Jonathan Reyes/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jonathan Reyes (@werdynerdy)

At their core, the Wagner Seahawks have quite the nucleus for years to come and to continue growing under head coach Bashir Mason.

Blake Francis has been by far the most impressive to this point, and it’s in large part to his own ingrained mentality before arriving on the hill. AJ Sumbry is a solid big man. Elijah Davis is just plain good. Devin Liggeons is a sparkplug. Jamar Brown has yet to show what he’s capable of.

HOW THESE SEAHAWKS TAKE FLIGHT
All of those players mentioned are either freshmen or sophomores, and almost make up the other half of the roster. The one not named and could turn into a star is Connor Ferrell. Find a way to watch highlights of Wagner’s game against the CSI Dolphins on December 22, 2016. His performance in that matchup was a taste of what he’s capable of.

He dropped 20 points, hit four three-pointers on six attempts and came a rebound shy of a double-double (nine) in just 23 minutes. It showed off how dangerous he can be on the floor. Key going forward is finding consistency, but that’s all in time.

“My teammates being aggressive, really,” he said about his success that night. “I know they think I’m a huge impact when I’m locked in, so I just stepped up and hit shots when the ball came to me and I just took what the defense gave me. Also, being aggressive like coach says. Just left it all out there.”

The confidence Ferrell and his teammates share is no fluke. Wagner knows who they are as a team, and that’s what helps them sustain success. They have a familial relationship, which most teams can struggle to have. These Seahawks genuinely want to see each other play to their potential, so this time in the Northeast Conference championship game they can walk away with gold and not silver this time, as Mason pointed out at “Madness Before Midnight.”

What it’s going to take to achieve just that is in keeping with the mantra of attitude screamed passionately at every single practice and playing with what Mason dubs “unbelievable toughness.”

“Embracing who we are, and just sticking to that,” Mason said. “Defense and rebounding, that’s what we’re really good at. And just play together on offense. We’re not really changing anything. I feel good about all the guys coming together with all of the injuries and everything that we’ve had.”

“Now us as a coaching staff, we have to script the game. We’re starting to find our identity a little bit more. Our older guys are starting to be more aggressive and chippy, as our young guys have a much better understanding of what we’re looking to do.”

DE FACTO LEADERS IN HENSON, CAREY
Two of those “older guys” Mason is referring to are Corey Henson and Michael Carey. The teammates are in their second season of playing together and have learned to lean on each other as leaders more despite having differing styles.

If you’ve ever met Henson, he has a great sense of humor and likes to talk, while Carey is soft-spoken and has a phenomenal perspective on almost anything you throw his way. The funny thing is the way each leads is completely opposite from how they are as people. Henson said he isn’t vocal on the court; he instead prefers to be a model through his energetic play.

Looking back to his first season donning green and white, Carey said he leaned on Henson and Dwaun Anderson because he struggled to relay Mason’s message. Now he’s more comfortable to be able to tell his teammates exactly how things should be done. As Henson said, “If he’s with me, we’re both leading.”

In order to earn their way to March 7 -- day of the NEC championship game – for a second straight season, and this time walk away with the crown, Mason is going to need the leadership of Henson and Carey. Henson is going to need Mason and Carey. Carey and is going to need Mason and Henson.


When each was asked how they see the Seahawks going forward, here’s what they had to say:

Henson: “Intense playoff basketball every game. And then when we get into the actual playoffs, it’s amped up. Everything matters, including every play and possession. We just have to practice like that, so in every game it’s second nature.”

Carey: “It’s definitely a different type of mindset, especially coming from Corey, Connor Ferrell, Elijah Davis, Mike Aaman. We know the fun and games of figuring stuff out is over. We’re finally getting there.”

Mason: “There’s only going to be one champion and one team from our league that’s going to play in the NCAA Tournament or have some sort of postseason. So the approach and the focus has to be every individual game, we have to prepare like it’s a championship. It’ll be tough to do 32 games, but if that’s the focus and we’re working towards that, then I think our mindset is in a good place and we’ll be in a good position to compete and win a lot of games.”

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