“He just oozes with energy,” said Mount assistant Tony Bethel, a holdover from Burke’s staff. “Our guys feed off that. That is so huge. I do [sense a turnaround] with our guys and how much they enjoying playing the game and how much they’re enjoying being on the court every day.”
Christian has prioritized communication as he gets to know his team. The program has instituted a breakfast club, with a staff member spending time with players in the morning for a half-hour before their first class.
“When you choose a school, you want to choose a place that’s going to really spend time with you and your personal development,” Christian said. “A lot of times, people choose a school with a great name or who had a great season. That stuff’s great, but the thing about your own experience is that it’s yours. It’s hard to base your experience on someone else’s.”
Still, Christian’s appreciation of his playing days at the Mount (which has made three NCAA tournament appearances since moving to Division I nearly a quarter-century ago, the most recent in 2008) undoubtedly will influence how he sells his alma mater to recruits.
Not much has changed since he graduated. The department now has a full-time strength coach, but the Mountaineers still play in cozy Knott Arena. Phelan, who won 830 games over 49 seasons, still stops by the office a few times a week.
Christian experienced one notable development since he returned. He turned 30 a few weeks after his hire.
“Now, I’m apparently an acceptable coaching age,” Christian said wryly.
Consider it one more thing going according to plan.