Former George Washington Guard Set to Join the Catamounts
The Vermont Catamounts will be adding four new faces to the team for the upcoming 20/21 season. Justin Mazzulla, Tomas Murphy, Bernie Andre and Georges Lefebvre. Three transfers with a mix of eligibility and one incoming freshman with hopefully a solid four year career ahead of him. It’s the offseason, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and no one knows when we’ll be able to get sports back in our lives. But for the sake of content and staying sane, let’s take a peek into these four new Catamounts, as they join a Vermont program that will be trying to capture it’s ninth American East conference title and fourth in five years.
Let’s start with the first of those four names listed to join UVM, Justin Mazzulla. Before suiting up for the green and gold, Mazzulla played for George Washington, where he started 45 of 70 games in just a hair over two years. Mazzulla is an unusual transfer case, as he entered the transfer portal very early on in his junior season before ultimately joining UVM for the second half of their 19/20 campaign. Due to the NCAA transfer rules, Mazzulla was forced to sit out the remainder of the season and cheer on his new teammates from the bench.
Here’s where things get a little foggy – technically Mazzulla transferred mid-season and the NCAA requires all transfers to sit out an entire year before they are deemed eligible for their new team, meaning Mazzulla wouldn’t be able to see the court until January of 2021 at the earliest. However, Mazzulla only played in four games for George Washington last year and the UVM coaching staff was somehow able to find a loophole or waiver for sophomore Duncan Demuth last year, granting him immediate eligibility, as he transferred in from Oklahoma State over the summer. Nothing has been reported of Mazzulla’s upcoming eligibility yet and it’s quite possible the coaching staff is still hammering out the details, but my money would be on Mazzulla suiting up for the Cats come November.
Adding another wrinkle into the fold is what Mazzulla plans to do after this year. Mazzulla will be entering his senior year this fall with anywhere from 1 to 2 years of eligibility left in his playing career. Maybe he’s granted a full two years – does he stay at UVM after the 20/21 season for a grad season or possibly even transfer again? Maybe a high end D1 program with the chance of winning a national title comes knocking on his door? Who knows, maybe the NCAA says tough luck and all he gets is one year of eligibility, but has to wait till January 2021 to finally suit up with the Cats. Does the coaching staff then try to give him extended minutes? How does this affect team chemistry and development for an already crowded backcourt?
How Can Mazzulla Make an Impact?
Even without stepping a foot on the court for Vermont, Mazzulla has already made his presence known in Burlington. During the second half of the season, Mazzulla was a huge contributor to the bench mob celebrations whenever the Cats made a big play. Jumping up and down, dancing with the student coaches, throwing towels in the air and hyping up not only his new teammates, but the crowd as well. Mazzulla help to provide an instant spark in energy that was felt throughout Patrick Gym. When you’re the 13th,14th and 15th man in rotation, stuck at the end of the bench, you have to find a way to provide that uplifting support to your teammates who are out there grinding on the hardwood.
By all accounts, Mazzulla was a good player for George Washington and without a doubt proved that he can play at this level. As a sophomore, Mazzulla started all 33 games at PG where he averaged 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds a contest. He also led the Colonials in assists (3.5) and steals (1) per game. At 6’3 and 195lbs, Mazzulla has good size for either guard position and could even play the three spot in more small ball line-ups. Coach Becker has shown favorable interest in these type of strong combo-guards who can handle the rock, while also possessing good defensive versatility. At this point in his career, what you see is what you get with Mazzulla. A steady and consistent guard who’s tape isn’t going to blow you away, but should be able to win the coaching staff and fans over with a solid stat sheet and strong work ethic.
Any Red Flags or Injuries?
Justin Mazzulla left the Colonials despite being one of, if not their best all around guards. So why jump ship to Vermont, who many might see as a more parallel move rather than vertical leap for someone with Mazzulla’s already proven track record of success.
Honestly, there could and most likely are numerous reasons for student athletes to transfer schools, but in the case of Justin Mazzulla, the George Washington basketball program has been an absolute hot mess in recent years. Unfortunately, former GW head coach and UVM alum Maurice Joseph has taken the lions share of the blame from his brief stint there, but the issues at hand appear to be much more significant, as a growing number of Mazzulla’s former GW teammates see the writing on the wall and have followed in his footsteps out the door.
As far as I know, Mazzulla doesn’t have much, if any sort of injury history to report on. UVM has had some minor trouble these past few years with players catching a few dings and bruises, but that’s to be expected over the course of a season. Although not a red flag, the issue I do have with this incoming transfer is where Mazzulla fits in with the rotation.
Who’s the Odd Man Out?
The Catamounts currently have an abundance of guards, led by upcoming seniors Stef Smith and Benny Shungu. Sitting behind them consists the duo of Robin Duncan and Aaron Deloney. Next up is Eric Beckett, followed by two walk-ons in Kevin Garrison and Deng Adiang. Here’s what we know – Smith, Shungu and to an extent Duncan are all projected to see starter minutes. Deloney came on strong in the latter half of the year and saw great production offensively. He should see an increased role moving forward. Due to an already deep rotation, Beckett’s minutes were very limited, but still managed to find the stat sheet whenever he saw game action. He’s another guy that whose game would benefit greatly with some additional minutes to help progress and develop his game further. As much as I love the support Garrison and Adiang provide, they’re essentially just practice bodies and are going to continue to ride the pine for at least one more year.
So, where does Mazzulla fit into this equation? Good question and to be frank I have no clue what type of role the coaching staff has envisioned for him in the upcoming year. Overall I’d grade this transfer for the Cats as a C+/B-. Muzzulla is the exact type of PG that the coaching staff covets – with an already established record of success, high basketball IQ, great versatility and outstanding overall character, he should make for a great fit. Despite all this, his addition to an already established Catamount backcourt could cause some friction when divining up playing minutes. If the Cats had a hole to fill at either of their guard spots I’d rank this higher, but with so much uncertainty with what type of role Mazzulla will have this year, I can’t help but wonder if this scholarship would have been best served elsewhere.
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