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On a typical night, Kim English clicks off his television and heads to bed around midnight, after watching some NBA games. Less than six hours later, the first-year George Mason men’s basketball coach is awake and ready to tackle a new day.
“I like to say I have never worked a day in my life,” English, a 2012 draft pick for the Detroit Pistons, tells City Paper. “I wake up and am excited to get started. I think the upside is tremendous to build it again.”
The 2021-22 season began with promise. Mason won its first four games for just the fourth time in school history, including a win on the road against a then top-20 ranked Maryland team. (The Terps have since parted ways with former head coach Mark Turgeon.) Mason has also struggled, losing five of its last six games and revealing the challenges that English, a 33-year-old Baltimore native, faces in rebuilding a program that has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. The university was pegged to finish eighth in the Atlantic 10 Conference, but English believes that progress will come, even as the school competes for attention and recruits in the region with programs like Maryland and Georgetown.
“I think everything about our program is high major—travel, facilities. I want to be a perennial NCAA team and competing for Atlantic 10 championships every year and getting players to the NBA,” English says.
English arrived at Mason after working at Tennessee under Rick Barnes, who was an assistant at Mason from 1980 to 1985, followed by one year as head coach in the 1987-88 season, before stops at Providence, Clemson, Texas, and eventually Tennessee. English has been an assistant coach at Tulsa, Colorado, and Tennessee, and can see himself being in the D.C. area long-term.
“Of all the places [Barnes] has been, he speaks the highest of Fairfax and the D.C. area,” says English, who attended Randallstown High School in Baltimore County.
So far, he has endeared himself to many of the Patriots’ young fans. He is only about a decade removed from his college days and has been able to engage with the fan base through social media. English has more than 50,000 followers on Twitter, but he is judicious about how often he uses it. “I grew up in the age of social media,” English says. “I back off in-season; I deleted my Twitter account after the Maryland win. I was ready to move on and focus on our next game.”
Sophomore forward Malik Henry was convinced to stay at Mason after individual workouts with English this past summer. Henry had never met English since he replaced former Mason head coach Dave Paulsen, but Henry’s first impressions of the young, energetic coach solidified his intentions to stay with Mason.
“I felt very confident; at first I said I’m not leaving, I don’t feel like going to another school,” Henry tells City Paper. “My first workout with Kim, I just knew it was going to be a good year the way the workouts were going.”
English’s offensive approach in trusting his players is gleaned from coaches he either played or coached under, including Frank Haith, who he played for at Missouri.
“I am incredibly invested in their development,” says English. “I want them to be the best player they can be. I don’t sugarcoat things with our guys; I think they love and respect that. I am in the gym with them as a head coach; I am with them in the trenches.”
English also draws on his Baltimore background in his coaching.
“It is a city that really values the game and guys that play the game the right way and is tough and incredibly competitive,” he says. “It taught me a lot of fundamental principles. If you lose a pickup game on the playground or in the gym there, chances are you won’t be playing again for a while.”
English is already building for the future. Two recruits that have signed with the Patriots are Devin Dinkins, who plays at Gonzaga College High School and Justyn Fernandez, from Richmond. Fernandez is a top 75 recruit, the highest signed by Mason since the school left the Colonial Athletic Association in 2013. English had been recruiting both for Tennessee. There are also signs that Mason will continue to surprise in English’s first season. On Tuesday, the team beat Navy, 71-65, behind a career-high 32 points from junior forward Josh Oduro, a graduate of St. Paul VI Catholic High School.
“We are going to go after the best kids we can,” English says.