Who are these guys representing Mason on the hardwood this year?
Rahul Parikh | Sports Editor
Who are these Comets?
When they come out of the locker room for pre-game warm ups, you need a program to identify exactly who is on the team.
In previous years Comet fans have been accustomed to players like high flying scoring machine Kyle Lamotte, the duo of long range sniper Eddie Puisis and the all around play of Matt King, or even the game changing signature dunks of Noah Pedelty.
The 2018-19 team may not have any player of the year candidates, big time recruits, or high flyers but they aren’t dwelling on what they don’t have they instead choose to focus on their strengths despite what all the preseason polls and pundits have to say about this squad.
Driven by preseason criticism and doubt, the Comets have started the season 2-0 with impressive wins over Sidney and Kings.
The only returning starter from last year’s team is senior guard Landen Long, who is expected to carry much of the scoring burden for Mason this year. Long said all the doubters out there has motivated him to come out with more passion and will to win every game this year.
“When people underestimate us and what we can do, it puts a chip on my shoulder,” Long said. “We always hear the same things about what we won’t be capable of achieving this year, and there’s no better feeling than winning games and proving all of them wrong.”
The big distinction that can be drawn from this year’s team is chemistry and playing off of each other. With no clear ‘guy’ to take all the shots in the 4th quarter — it allows the Comets to feed who is hot and account for each other.
From left, top row: Matt Wirth, Matt King, Tyler Baraandese, Jack Cooper, Shameel Abid, Matt Minick, Mitchell Greer, Ben Stewart, Matt Smith
From left, bottom row: Ayden Crowley, Ethan Howard, Landen Long, Johnathan Gilstorf, Max Johnson, Jack Frank, Alec Dardis, Guru Ram
Senior Ethan Howard, who played significant minutes a season ago said that being able to always spread the ball around and make up for bad shooting nights promotes Mason to be better offensively, because every player can score when called upon.
“Teams actually have a tougher time preparing for us because there is no ‘one guy’ to shut down,” Howard said. “It makes it really easy for us when every single guy on the court can score at any given moment in the game, and we are all very capable.”
Senior center Matt Minick, who is tasked with being the primary shot blocker and rebounder, embraces the idea of a ‘team’ culture, as the same core group of guys have been playing together for an extensive period of time.
“We’ve pretty much had the same youth team since elementary school,” Minick said. “I feel like we all have embraced this unselfish brand of basketball, and that leads to us being better as a group and seeing more success.”
The Comets opened this season with a 63-44 win over Sidney, who is led by Virginia Tech commit Andre Gordon. Howard said the win over Sidney was a big statement for Mason to prove themselves on both sides of the ball.
“It was definitely a signature win for us,” Howard said. “When people see Mason versus Sidney, they would expect Sidney to beat us in a blowout, but winning by 19 made a huge statement and just kept our confidence going.”
Defensively, the Comets have a history of being stingy priding themselves on holding teams to single digit quarters. Senior point guard Jack Franke, a relentless defender said that the team is looking to silence the doubters and put together solid defensive performances, like they did against Sidney.
“Going into the season we knew we could score, but the question was if we could stop teams,” Franke said. “Showing that we stopped Sidney well and held Andre Gordon to 19 points, gave us a really big step in a positive direction defensively.”
Long agreed that defense will be a key for the Comets this season, but believes that although they have shown success early, there is always room for improvement and the only way to trend is in the positive direction.
“Defense is obviously really important to Coach Richards and our system,” Long said. “We’ve shown growth early on but what really excites us is that the only thing we’re gonna do is progress, and that will make us a much more dangerous team later in the season.”
Even though the team has a solid core of seniors the roster has some young players who have the ability to play a significant role for the Comets.
Long said that the younger players on the team mpact the game and help Mason win games because of their talent, and ability to adapt to the game.
“We put in these younger players, and most people don’t even know who they are,” Long said. “These guys like Matt (Smith) play with the same chip on their shoulder, and prove themselves on the court.”
Franke believes that the seniors not only have to perform on the court but they have an obligation to help mentor the team’s younger players. He recalls the way he felt when his confidence was boosted by former Comets who now playing at the collegiate level.
“Matt (King) and Eddie were awesome leaders my sophomore year,” Franke said. “We want to bring that same mentality to the younger guys now, so they are fully developed and integrated into the program quickly.”
For the seniors, now is their last go around with the daily workouts practices, and excitement of playing in front of the school on friday nights. Minick has cherished all the memories he has made with the Mason basketball program over his career, and is very thankful for everything it has given him.
“I’ve really been appreciating everything more this year,” Minnick said. “The Mason basketball program and the memories that came along with it have highlighted my high school life, and it’s crazy to think that this year will be our last.”
Photo by Tanner Pearson.