Dave Paulsen. Photo by Alexis Glenn/Creative Services/George Mason University
Dave Paulsen. Photo by Alexis Glenn/Creative Services/George Mason University.

An Interview with Dave Paulsen

I (David Kaplan) recently sat down with George Mason University Men’s Head Basketball Coach Dave Paulsen who enters his fourth season with the Patriots. We discussed recruiting and especially recruiting Northern Virginia basketball. The Patriots have recruited the NOVA area at a rate probably not seen since the 1980’s at the Fairfax school, and are poised for a big year this season with most of their roster returning from last year’s 9-9 A-10 team.

DK-“In years past, Mason has traditionally recruited the Northern Virginia area for preferred walk-on spots (such as Zach Garrett of Heritage HS), has there been an emphasis on recruiting scholarship players in recent years?”

DP-“We try to recruit the best players we can recruit. If they are from Northern Virginia, or the greater DC area, or even the greater DMV area, that’s better. Recruiting is a relationship-built business, it takes a few years to develop those relationships.”

Coach Paulsen thinks there’s great talent in the area and that for Mason’s recruiting, it’s a matter of A) him being the right fit and B) landing him. He feels the program is in a better position now after his staff has made relationships with high school and AAU coaches in the area and he feels that his staff has done a great job of being very visible at high school games and AAU tournaments, and applauded his assistant coaches for being approachable.

He credits getting guys to their games, Mason Madness, and establishing report with local coaches as things that have helped with recruiting since taking over the helm at George Mason University following Paul Hewitt’s four- year tenure including the jump from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic Ten Conference.

DK-“Back in the day NCAA coaches would flock to Fairfax County for high school basketball games, now it seems most coaches visit during open gyms and during the AAU season. How do you feel about how the recruiting landscape has changed in that regard?”

DP-“Part of it is the nature of the beast but it remains to be seen what happens with changes with the Condoleezza Rice Commission has proposed,” says Coach Paulsen, who is referring to the proposed changes to the NCAA basketball recruiting calendar and overall landscape of recruiting.

“It seems like there will be more summer recruiting in June within the context of the HS atmosphere that will change…for the first time since I’ve been a Division I coach, all of the recruiting during the spring and summer has taken place at AAU events.”

“There’s good and bad in any system…good, it’s efficient. I like going to the high school game and evaluating them. That is my preferred method, but reality is that you might only get to one or two games a week and only see one or two prospects in a game. During the season as a Head Coach, my number one priority is working with the guys we have here. I’m never going to miss a practice of a film session to go recruiting and our players know they come first, whether it’s getting to the gym for extra shooting with a guy or talking through why he didn’t play down the stretch, or those sorts of things.”

“Those are the priorities for a Head Coach over recruiting, because those are the players that I already have. So as a Head Coach, the majority of recruiting I’m able to do is at high school open gyms in the fall and AAU games in the spring and summer.”

DK-“Previous GMU coaches hadn’t had great success recruiting locally against the other DC area colleges, how do you think you’ve been able to change that with bringing in Jordan Miller (Loudoun Valley) and getting commitments from Josh Oduro (Battlefield/PVI) and Xavier Johnson (Episcopal) in consecutive recruiting classes?”

DP-“I can’t comment on the 2019 recruits, because that would be a NCAA violation, but anyone can check social media to see who we are recruiting and who’s committed to us. We’ve made recruiting this area a priority. It’s not a be-all and end-all, but we want to get the best players. We’ve established relationships and we don’t get too wrapped up in who we don’t get, it matters who we do get. We’ll continue to recruit the kids in the area who are on everyone’s lists, and we’ll continue to evaluate and watch and recruit the kids who don’t show up on anybody’s lists except for our own.”

“I trust my staff’s ability to evaluate and we’ll put their evaluation abilities against anyone’s in the country.”

His Assistant Coaches are: Dane Fisher – the longtime right-hand man of Coach Paulsen; Aaron Kelly – who starred at nearby perennial powerhouse Catholic University; and Duane Simpkins – a legendary Maryland Terps player. His Director of Basketball Operations is Ted Rawlings (an Ivy League graduate with experience at D1 and D2 programs) and his Graduate Managers are Bryson Johnson, who played under Paulsen at Bucknell, and Tyler Jorns, who most recently was on staff at the United States Air Force Academy, with previous experience with the Utah Jazz.

Who did we miss, Mason Nation?
Who did we miss, Mason Nation?

DK-“GMU secured one four-star / Washington Post All-Met POY [Patrick Holloway] back in 2012, have you and your staff targeted the higher-rated recruiting targets or do you look for guys who fit your system regardless of their rating? What is your recruiting philosophy?”

DP-“You get the best guys you can recruit that fit our culture. I don’t really recruit for a system, that’s more important,” he says.

“Are they a gym rat? Do they want to be in the gym? Do they want to work? We devote 30 minutes every single day before or after practice to skill development and player development. Do they have a passion for the game?”

“Most importantly, you’ve got to be a good person, a good citizen. You’ve got to value the education that you’re going to receive at George Mason. Those things are the prerequisite for if we are going to recruit you. We’ll recruit the highest-rated prospect on the board, but as I said before, we’ll recruit the guys who are high on our lists.”

“I don’t care about ratings because the individual referenced kid doesn’t end up played four years of college basketball. Part of what made the 2006 Final Four team so great was that they had 3-4 years of college basketball experience compared to teams like North Carolina, who had a number of players leave college early for the NBA after the previous season.”

“People that didn’t make even any of the All-Met teams ended up having really, really distinguished careers at various other colleges around the country. The ratings are good for the fans, the blog posts, the message boards, but to me – it’s about the productivity.”

DK-“Mason’s average attendance was around 4,100 last season, is that something you think of when recruiting locally – as far as increased attendance to support the hometown players?
Or is it more like the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who said ‘Just win baby, win.'”

DP-“We want our attendance to go up. 4,100 is solid but we’d like to be in the 6,000 range. I think that’s feasible and I think the best way to do that is to win.”

“Recruiting locally does not factor in at all to attendance, however as a by-product, a player like Jordan Miller will get a strong Loudon Valley contingent. Again, we can’t comment on individuals in the class of 2019, but I think we are going to end up signing some really good players who play locally. That’s going to have a benefit with attendance – but they have to be good players.

“Otis Livingston II (A10 preseason second team) is not from the area, but he’s going to help our attendance because he’s a good player. Jarred Reuter is not from the area, but he’s going to help our attendance because we are going to win. I think the bottom line for recruiting locally is it’s the best high school basketball area in the country so why wouldn’t we? There’s a depth of talent that’s far beyond the All-Met teams in the Washington Post.”

DK-“What are some things you’d like the NOVA Hoops community to know and expect about the 2018-19 George Mason University Patriots?”

DP-“In many ways, things shouldn’t be much different than the previous three years in the sense that the things we want to be staples of our team. It’s a group that will play hard, have a lot of passion and energy and try not to beat itself.”

“We won four games at the buzzer and 3-4 more in overtime…hopefully we’re not a team that beats itself.”

“What has changed is that we now have experience, depth and now we have some size so I’m hoping we’re going to be more talented and a better team, but those attributes are what we pride ourselves on. How hard we play…we play unselfish and play with passion.”

–David Kaplan

David Kaplan is an assistant mens’ basketball coach at Catholic University and novahoops.com is excited to welcome him as an occasional contributor to the site, whenever his busy schedule allows!

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