Kahn has UMW trusting the process

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Freshman Drew Johnson is shooting an astonishing 47 percent from three so far this season.
Mary Washington athletics photo

By Phil Soto-Ortiz


Philadelphia 76ers fans aren’t the only ones trusting the process these days.

The men’s basketball team at Mary Washington may not have co-opted the expression, but the Eagles have been living it for four years under head coach Marcus Kahn. Now they’re reaping the benefits.

Kahn’s teams went 35-44 in his first three years as the successor to Rod Wood, who led UMW for 18 mostly successful years before taking a promotion to the position of director of athletic facilities. Kahn waited patiently for the Eagles to adapt fully to his system.

A 10-3 record and some close losses against CAC heavyweights York (Pa.) and Salisbury indicate they have bought in.

“I like the way we’re playing. I think we’re seeing the culture change in the program we wanted,” Kahn said. “We have a saying: ‘Self-importance is our greatest enemy.’ We want to bring in the best players we can, with the understanding that you’ve got to be unselfish.”

That has been put to the test this year with the addition of hot-shooting freshman Drew Johnson, the brother of former Mary Washington star Taylor Johnson. The Eagles have not bristled at the sight of a rookie getting the ball in crunch time, and he has rewarded them. His buzzer-beater sank Randolph-Macon in December, and he hit seven of his 10 three-pointers last Wednesday to beat Wesley on a night most of his teammates weren’t shooting well.

“We have guys who are much more concerned with seeing the team win,” Kahn said. “They look for him now. Our point guard, Jacob Williams – for him to be successful, he knows he’s got to get Drew a shot. If Drew’s making a shot and we’re winning, we’ve all got to be pretty happy with that.”

“His ability to shoot really stretches our offense,” Williams said of Johnson. “His shots allow us to spread out defenses. Our big men could probably tell you the most. Johnny Cronin, Eric Shaw, they’re all really blessed for Drew’s shooting.”

Taylor Johnson was a senior on Kahn’s first team, and though that team struggled, he did not blame the new coach.

“(Taylor) loved it here,” Drew Johnson said. “He felt Coach Kahn was a great coach and that the system would work really well. He told me it’s pretty much how he thinks I should play. He told me I’d love it here.”

Shaw, who played one year with Taylor Johnson, enjoys seeing Drew on the floor.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Shaw said. “It’s like having his older brother on the court. They look exactly like each other.”

Shaw is the only player remaining from Kahn’s initial recruiting class. Kahn came in at the end of the school year in 2014, late for recruiting for the upcoming fall. Shaw, however, had played at Fredericksburg Christian School for Mark Sansone, who joined Kahn’s staff after a stint at Eastern University. Shaw transferred in after a redshirt year at Division I Longwood. His three freshman classmates from Kahn’s first season were gone from the roster by the following year, but Shaw never wavered.

“I believed in Coach Kahn from the first time I met him,” Shaw said. “I knew what my issue was, and it was never him. He did more than enough to prepare us, and he knew how to adapt. With a new coach, it takes a few years to go through that adversity.”

And adversity there was. The Eagles went 8-19 in Kahn’s first year, one year after a 25-6 record and a run to the Elite Eight under Wood. UMW bounced back to a respectable 15-12 the following year with the CAC’s leading scorer, T.J. Jones, but Jones did not return the following year, and freshman Mark Madison sat out 2016-17 as well.

Without getting into specifics, Shaw indicated previous UMW teams weren’t all pulling in the same direction, but, with a roster composed entirely of Kahn recruits (including Madison, who has returned), that is no longer the case.

“I’ve been on really good teams and I know how a locker room should be,” Shaw said. “There was like a void in previous years. Now it’s like a family.”

Shaw may have shown faith in Kahn, but Kahn has done the same for him, allowing Shaw to become a long-range shooter over time. Shaw took a total of 13 three-pointers his first two seasons, then 75 his junior year.

“His first two years, he would say, ‘Can’t I play the 3 (small forward)?’” Kahn said.  “‘I’ve played the 3 before. I’ve shot threes.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but we need you in the paint.’ He started off in practice (last season) shooting threes. They were going in. If it’s going in, that gives me the confidence (to let him keep shooting).”

One of Kahn’s methods that concerned some players, at least at first, was a weekly team session of yoga. Kahn’s wife is a yoga instructor, and she teaches the team. Kahn makes sure UMW recruits see this when they make their campus visits. Many find it strange at first, but they quickly become converts.

“It’s just a good way to heal the body,” Williams said. “It’s mental and physical. When you’re doing yoga, you have to focus on one thing. It’s a really good way to clear the mind.”

“The first time we did it,” Johnson said, “I was like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ But after that first time, I felt great. My body had never felt that great.”

It will, of course, take more than yoga to get UMW through the CAC, but the Eagles have served notice to the top teams that they are now a danger.

“We lost to Salisbury in a game we had the lead in in the final two minutes,” Kahn said. “We had a good lead on York in the first half and we didn’t extend it. But we know we can play with teams. I think at the end of February, we’ll be right in the mix.”

LVC’s Light gets national honor

Sam Light’s 57 points in two impressive conference wins earned him national attention. First he was named to the D3hoops.com Team of the Week. Then the United States Basketball Writers Association named him its national player of the week on Tuesday. Light scored 27 points on 6-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc to lead Lebanon Valley to an upset of No. Lycoming last Wednesday, then added 30 on Saturday as LVC defeated Albright, which had been receiving votes in the national poll. 

Juniata loses first basketball game of season

Juniata was 24-0 in the sport heading into Saturday. The women kept up their end of the bargain with an overtime win over Catholic, but the men couldn’t keep theirs. Jay Howard scored 33 points for the Cardinals and Jimmy Golaszewski added 25 on 8-for-10 shooting (plus 4-4 from the line) to give the Eagle men their first loss of the year. Howard, the Landmark player of the week, leads the conference with 23.7 points per game.

Coming up

Saturday’s schedule is loaded with games featuring top conference contenders. York hosts Christopher Newport in women’s and men’s games at 1 and 3 p.m. Meanwhile, Marymount and Mary Washington meet at the same times. Swarthmore travels to Lancaster Saturday to take on F&M, which is coming off a surprising Tuesday loss to Muhlenberg.

Phil Soto-Ortiz

Phil Soto-Ortiz has been a play-by-play sportscaster for basketball, football and lacrosse at Franklin & Marshall College since 2010, and has also called games at Division II St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and at high schools around Connecticut. He writes the annual Centennial College football preview for D3football.com's Kickoff publication and has covered sports for the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News and several dailies and weeklies in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He graduated from Syracuse University, where he called the play-by-play of the women?s basketball team's games, including their last win over the UConn Huskies.
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