Friday, March 31, 2006

Mason Nation Swelling

The out-of-the-shadows history of the university is being told far and wide. It began in an old elementary schoolhouse with 17 students in 1957. Now George Mason University's sprawling Fairfax campus serves nearly 30,000 students. The jolly tale of George Mason's march through this spring's version of annual hoops madness -- which will end happily, or not, in Indianapolis -- has captivated the nation.

As well, sports fans everywhere are now discovering the subtle charms of Jim Larranaga (pictured left), the author of the NCAA’s best Final Four underdog story ever. That’s good because Coach Larranaga, who has been doing his job the same way for a long time, deserves this time in the spotlight.

While most other college head coaches occasionally whine or show anger after games in the media room -- for some it's more than occasionally -- Larranaga's habit is to praise what he sees as praiseworthy and skip the rest. Yet, he is at the same time quite forthright in answering tough questions. This is a coach who consistently sets a good example for his players.

Like the rest of the greater CAA family, VCU Rams coaches, players and fans here in Richmond have been familiar with how rugged Larranaga's teams have been/always are for a good while. In the Big Dance's competition it's said the referees frequently allow more contact -- they let 'em play. For savvy teams that aren’t shy about a little contact that can be a boon.

For well-coached players who can adjust their moves to how closely the officials are calling a particular game another advantage can be taken. For example, nimble Jai Lewis (pictured right) has been using his 275 pounds quite deftly to get his way on the floor, just on the right side of what is being allowed. All the Patriots have been working this aspect of the NCAA tournament so adroitly it’s been quite a treat to watch. says 16 states are betting more on both UCLA and LSU to win it all. Florida is the favorite in 12 states. Mason has only six. Each school's own state is backing it. Curiously, the states other than Virginia that lean toward the underdog Patriots are Hawaii, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Dakota. South Dakota? To see the color-coded map of all 50 states click on this link -- Not Larry Sabato.

With the tipoff of Saturday’s 6 p.m. tilt pitting George Mason against Florida only one day away, after defeating Connecticut in overtime there's no reason for the swelling Mason Nation to fear the Florida Gators. Meanwhile, here are some links to stories that might help with savoring the anticipation of April Fools Day:

AP: Larranaga loving Cinderella ride to Final Four
USA Today: Larranaga well-equipped to orchestrate Mason's run
The Charlotte Observer: Larranaga turns to UVa days for strategy
South of the James: For Black Alumni, George Mason’s Basketball Success is Even Sweeter
Richmond Times-Dispatch: GMU, before the big time
Yahoo Sports: Mason means business
Photos: Larranaga - USA Today; Lewis - SLANT

1 comment:

Howling Latina said...

That's my school. I am a graduate English student.

Go Patriots!