Mason Basketball Scoop, live from Wal-Mart
Ok, for people asking about the probable GMU starting lineup, I don't necessarily know more than you, but Will Thomas, Folarin "Shaq" Campbell, Gabe Norwood and John Vaughan are pretty much sure bets as starters. (For non-Mason fans, Thomas and Campbell started last year, Norwood got healthy minutes off the bench, and Vaughan would have been starting if he hadn't missed the year with a knee injury. Vaughan is an extremely likeable kid who somehow kept smiling last year when he was in Indianapolis at the Final Four, watching his teammates become national icons a few feet from him. I just saw him around campus, and he's still smiling.)
There are basically four guys competing for the fifth spot--transfer Darryl Monroe, freshman Louis Birdsong, Jesus Urbina (also coming off an injury) and sophomore Sammy Hernandez. My gut feeling is you don't bring in a JuCo transfer with two years of remaining eligibility (Monroe) unless you think he's got a good chance to start, so I'd say Monroe's the slight frontrunner entering fall practice, but that's just me. We'll see the team practice in a few hours. And obviously Jordan Carter and JuCo all-American Andre Smith are the first guards off the bench; both should get significant minutes.
As for tonight's Midnight Madness, I don't have the inside scoop, but I'm going to the pre-event ESPN walkthrough at 5 p.m. But by that time, none of you will be in front of your computers. Estimated turnout is anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000.
Anyhow, my lunch with assistant coach Chris Caputo turned into a trip to Wal-Mart with assistant coach Chris Caputo, where we immediately saw two women in the check-out lines with George Mason sweatshirts and, right at the front of the store, a display rack featuring George Mason pennants, George Mason flags, George Mason bumper stickers, and, tucked near the bottom, a few small Redskins keychains.
"Was this here before the Final Four?" Caputo asked, rhetorically. "No way."
He also told me how his trips to recruiting events have changed. In the old days, he would see kids in the parking lot whispering to each other when the Duke and North Carolina coaches walked by, kids who would shout out "Go Duke!" or "I want to go to Duke!"
"Now, we get that," Caputo said. "When I walk through the parking lot, they're like, 'George Mason is here.'"
On the other hand, we stopped in the magazine section and looked at the CBSSportsline.com college basketball preview, which mentioned how Mason has two great incoming freshmen in Birdsong and Monroe. Monroe's a junior. I'm guessing they don't screw up stuff like that in the ACC section.
Plus, a shopper approached Caputo, who was wearing black dress slacks and a green George Mason polo.
"Do you have Graham crackers and marshmallows here?" the shopper asked. "Oh, you looked official for a minute," she said, when she realized Caputo didn't technically work at Wal-Mart.
"Don't get too big for your britches now, Caputo," Caputo said. "On the one hand you've got a guy from The Washington Post following you around, and on the other hand you've got people asking you for Graham crackers to make s'mores."
And for you Mason diehards, here's his take on the three newcomers.
On Andre Smith: "As a kid, as nice of a kid as you can get, grateful for the opportunities that he's given. Just being from Houston, Texas and being around all the guys from D.C., he's done a good job, just like Jordan Carter, of kind of assimilating into that. The guys love him and they feel real comfortable with him, so that transition's been great.
As a player, a lot like Tony Skinn. Super athletic, fast as can be, shoots it really well, strong, and any time you can get a junior college player with three years of eligibility, you're happy. You're hoping by mid-year they can really help you, and then in the next two years they have a chance to score 1,000 points and do all those things, and Tony's a great example of that."
On Darryl Monroe: "Great sense of humor, which helps him in this situation, because we're a pretty loose team. He's a really funny kid. Obviously he's got some experience, two years of junior college basketball, and he'll be asked to contribute immediately. He's a tremendous passer and he can score with his back to the basket. If we can get him to defend as well as our front court guys did last year, we're gonna have a chance to be pretty good."
On Louis Birdsong: "The youngest guy on the team, and he's a young freshman, he just turned 18. His ability level is off the charts; his parents were both track stars at Purdue, and he was the Baltimore player of the year. But he's like a high school guy, and everybody else are college guys. They don't make fun of him or anything, but they've got to help him adjust. He's got to catch up. But he's one of our hardest workers, in the gym constantly, constantly. On the first Saturday of the school year we saw him dribbling his basketball toward the Patriot Center at 9 a.m."
Oh, and the backseat of Caputo's car contains, among other things: little orange cones, the case for "Ill Communication," a copy of "Freakonomics," and a key to the City of Fairfax, which he received last spring.
"I haven't had time to set up my Final Four display yet, you know what I mean?" he said. "I'm too busy trying to get back to another one."
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