HUNTINGTON — Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni has been adamant that the only thing holding junior forward Darius George back is George himself.
However, D’Antoni added that the first few practices of the 2019-20 season have shown that George is starting to turn the corner in terms of not limiting his own production.
“The way he’s looking at basketball is much better than his first two years,” D’Antoni said. “His first year, he wasn’t confident in himself as a player. Then he gained confidence but lost the focus. Now he’s got both. He’s got the confidence and feels better about what he can and can’t do.”
George’s physical attributes have never been in question as the high-rising 6-foot-7 forward from Virginia can elevate well and get down the court at increased tempo, which lends itself well to D’Antoni’s system.
Instead, George’s battles since arriving in Huntington have been in the mental side of things, whether it was coming to practice with the right mindset or bringing the proper energy to the floor.
George is one of those polarizing figures when on the floor. When he’s locked in, he makes everyone around him better. However, during those times that the focus wasn’t there, the sync of the entire unit suffered.
“I think that’s with everyone on the team, but it showed itself more last year with George,” D’Antoni said. “Jon [Elmore] always came the same way, Jarrod [West] always came the same way, C.J. [Burks] was a little up and down, but he was normally hyper and Jannson [Williams] was at a pretty good level. Anytime that George got below those, it seemed like it pulled from the group.
“Just like anything else, if you get one that’s not quite doing what he needs to be doing, it’s like a bad apple in a barrel. It bruises all of them.”
Again, D’Antoni said those issues appear to be in the past for George, who has flown around practice on both ends and made several impressive cuts without the basketball that have led to baskets.
“Mentally, he’s really ready to play this year,” D’Antoni said. “He’s improved his game — offensively especially. He’s really become one of the guys that I feel comfortable about what he’s going to do on the floor every day.”
One of the aspects that D’Antoni said has shown itself the most is George’s explosiveness with the basketball in his hands.
“He’ll put the ball on the floor and shoot the mid-range jumper,” D’Antoni said. “Now he hadn’t done it in a game, but in practice he’s been able to put the ball down and get to a mid-range shot or a path off the dribble. He couldn’t do that at all before.”
George and fellow wing Taevion Kinsey have both worked on that aspect, which isn’t easy for either because they both have excellent jumping ability, which means a mid-range shot requires significant touch.
It started with work in the gym during the offseason — an aspect that improved, along with his game.
“The hardest two people for a mid-range shot is Taevion and George,” D’Antoni said. “And what do they have in common? Long arms and they jump high. It’s hard to gauge that same jump each time.
“If you look at it, they probably never practiced it because they were quick and athletic enough to get to the rim.”
D’Antoni said the newfound confidence of George is starting to help his game reach new heights — a growth which they hope to continue throughout the preseason.
“He can do everything,” D’Antoni said. “He can space the floor. He can get rebounds that others can’t because he and Taevion are above the rim. He can run the floor, too. Every aspect of the game we play, he has those capabilities.”