blair garrett

Development is the path to success, and the Mount St. Mary’s Men’s Basketball team is geared up and ready for its 2019-20 campaign.

The young guns are back and refreshed after a long offseason, with the team soon closing out its final week of training camp before the regular season kicks off.

Last season, the Mount suited up a full roster of underclassmen, including nine freshmen. This season is also head coach Dan Engelstad’s second behind the bench, and the extra year to build chemistry between the players and the system has done wonders for the cohesion of the team.

“We speak a similar language now,” Engelstad said. “Last year was trying to teach a new system and how we play, and now we’re speaking that common language, and for us to see the growth of our guys and see how far they’ve come is really enjoyable.”

Returning eight of those freshmen and five sophomores gives Mount St. Mary’s a sense of familiarity cruising into this season, and having a roster with a full year under its belt as a team is something that inspires confidence in Engelstad.

“Now we’re demanding more, and our expectations are higher for us,” Engelstad said. “It’s been a really fun experience to come to the gym every day and work with these guys.”

Hard work pays off, and a few key players who stepped up last season will be looked to once again to lead the team. 

The Northeast Conference (NEC) will be on high alert with Mount guard Vado Morse on the court. Morse put up stellar numbers as the season wore on, and only got better during the in-conference matchups over the latter half of the year. The All-Rookie team star added another accolade to his already impressive resume, being named NEC Rookie of the Year, joining elite company with just two other players in Mount history. Morse scored 10 or more in 18 of 20 games last season, including seven 20-plus point efforts and scored back-to-back career highs against LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis Brooklyn. 

Morse, along with Jalen Gibbs and Omar Habwe are a dynamic trio, with each threatening from beyond the arc and with explosive drives to the hoop. Morse and guard Damian Chong Qui were excellent at facilitating the offense, habitually finding shooting lanes and the open man to give the team the best opportunity to score. The pair led the team in assists last season, cashing in on 160 assists combined. 

Mount St. Mary’s has balance throughout the lineup, with players across the bench able to step up and contribute on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. “We really feel like our depth is now a strength,” Engelstad said. “We didn’t feel like we could go as deep into our bench as we can this year.”

Malik Jefferson and Nana Opoku provide a strong defensive prowess and high compete level for rebounds to extend the play. Jefferson led the team last season in rebounds per game, and both players are heavily relied upon for putting aggressive defensive pressure on opposing forwards.

The Mount has a lot to look forward to this season, and it all begins with a few major tests on the road to kick off the November. Mount St. Mary’s takes on Georgetown University, University of Washington, and the University of Kentucky all in the first three weeks of the season, giving the group ample time to perfect systems and experience big teams on a big stage before facing in-conference opponents. 

“[We want] to see how connected we are,” Engelstad said. “We’ve done a lot of work this offseason, starting right as the season ended, growing as a team and growing our culture, discipline, and trying to take that next step. That next step for us is competing against some of the best teams in the country and finding out where we stand.”

The Mount has been making all the right strides to continue competing at the highest level, and Engelstad and company will be more than prepared on opening day. Mount St. Mary’s basketball tips off Nov. 6 against Georgetown at 7:00 p.m. You can catch the game live on CBS Sports Network.  

NEC Rookie of the Year Vado Morse pictured above.

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