“I think those jobs prepared me, I think being a student here and being a person here who loves this place has prepared me more.,” reflected Jamion Christian, coach of the Men’s Basketball team.
From the first time Christian stepped foot on Mount St. Mary’s campus, he knew it was a special place. As a shooting guard and three-year captain under the leadership of Coach Jim Phelan, Christian truly enjoyed his time as a student-athlete at the Mount. Ironically, he did not play his senior year. He described it as a “weird twist of fate,” but it allowed him to get a head-start on coaching. He had to learn how to motivate his teammates without playing – and that is what coaching is.
Christian loved his experience as a student-athlete playing for Mount basketball. He remembers the home crowds and how basketball games were such a big event on campus. He remembers his teammates the most and the bonds he made with them. As a Division 1 basketball player, you spend more time with your teammates than you do with your family so creating lasting relationships and memories was something that impacted Christian greatly during his time as a player.
“It was such a great experience for me,” Christian said.
After Christian graduated from the Mount, he dove head first into the world of coaching. He says he “came from a coaching family.” Growing up, he was always helping organize family get-togethers such as baseball and football games, and his dad has been a track and field coach for 37 years. He said that he has always been attracted to strong leadership and strong coaches which can be seen in his previous three assistant coaching positions. Most notably, Christian served under Shaka Smart from 2011-2012 at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).
Taking what he learned in his positions as an assistant coach and combining that with his love for the Mount, Christian came back to campus in 2012 fired up and focused to be the head coach. With his experience as a student athlete at the Mount as well as the skills he developed in his assistant coaching positions, he knew what he wanted the basketball program at the Mount to look like.
He pushes an up-tempo game, saying, “I think that’s the way the game should be played.” He also stressed that the foundation of the Mount’s basketball program always starts with Coach Phelan.
The Mount is best known for their style of play introduced by Christian deemed as “Mount Mayhem.” Christian describes it as letting, “each become all that he is able.” When asked to elaborate on this, he said that it is mainly about two things: creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable and recovery. In team practices, Coach says their conditioning is a little different and involves competing to the point of failure, and then praising the recovery of that failure. This creates team closeness and lets each become all he is able.
By creating an environment where the team feels comfortable to fail, they are able to recover in an appropriate way. This mentality of recovery allows the team to perform well in games because they are not stuck in their mistakes and instead can move on quickly and focus on what’s next. Christian said he will still be hypercritical of them when they make mistakes, but that just helps them to be the best they can be.
Junior Robinson, in his junior year at the Mount, is in his third season with Christian. Speaking to the conditioning, Robinson described it as “boot camp” but said that it made him a better player and person. When asked about Christian, Robinson said that because of him, “I have a higher IQ for the game.” This is what he has learned the most from Christian. He also said that the most important thing Christian has taught him is the idea of family. He says that Christian “always looks out for us” and explained that that is a big deal because a lot of college coaches are not like that.
During this past November, the team embarked on an eight-game road trip that included games against teams such as Iowa State, West Virginia, and Michigan. Christian said the road trip prepared and tested them in numerous ways. He said that you learn more by playing challenging teams. For Christian, it is not about winning or losing; it is about getting the team to be the best it can be. “I believe our program is making the right steps to compete against those kind of teams,” he explained.
Christian also said that there is a difference between being “battle ready and battle tested.” He went on to say that he was happy that his team had the opportunity to be battle tested and that it definitely prepared them for conference play and post-season play as well.
Playing “those kind of teams” helped prepare the Mount for their conference play in the Northeast Conference (NEC) later in the season. In addition, Christian says having home games gives his team a huge advantage. He pointed out that opposing teams always say that the Mount is hardest place to play.
“We have the best support,” Christian said, and he truly means that. He continued, “it’s so loud, it’s so high energy…it is just so much fun.” Christian, his assistant coaches and his players love playing at home. He even wishes they had more home games in the schedule so they [the team] could create the great environment in Knott Arena more often for their fans.
Looking to the future, Christian believes in recruiting locally, following the foundation again set by Coach Phelan, and he has made sure that the coaching staff does a good job of recruiting in the Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina area to control the southern corridor since the Mount is the most southern school in the NEC. He looks for players who are “internally motivated” and have a drive and passion for the game.
Being internally motivated is essential to the basketball program at the Mount because Christian believes that it has the potential to be one of the top mid-major programs in the country. He in his fifth season at the Mount has led the team to become a consistent, competitive program in the NEC. He said, however, that windows of opportunity come and go quickly so they need to keep pushing and working extremely hard each year. He adds, “we’re trying to take it [the program] from being consistent, to being excellently great every single year.”
Christian said that “everyone in the world wants to give you limits on what you can and cannot do.” Coming back from 1-11 this season to become NEC regular season champions proves that Christian truly believes in no limits and that he is successful in conveying that attitude to his coaching staff and players. In addition to the team being regular season champions, Christian was awarded Jim Phelan NEC Coach of the Year. He wants to make sure that he leaves a lasting impact on his players.
“I want them to take this experience as a basketball player and apply it to different parts of their life,” he said. Christian’s ultimate goal is to give his players memories that are everlasting, because that is what he took away the most from his experience as a student-athlete at the Mount. “We can only play this game for so long,” he explained. “But the memories, they last forever.”