George Mason: Still Having Fun
By Adam Kilgore, in Denver
Immediately after George Mason won the CAA tournament, Will Thomas did an interview on the court. "No one is going to have more fun in this tournament than us, I'll guarantee you that," Thomas said.
After all the celebrating was finished, Folarin Campbell got a call from Lamar Butler, a hero of the Patriots 2006 Final Four run. "Just have fun," Butler told him.
Yesterday evening, Coach Jim Larranaga took to the blue podium and answered a question, in part, by saying, "Having fun is what basketball is all about."
Are we seeing a trend here? The Patriots are the most loose group of guys about to play an NCAA tournament game - or any game, really - that I've ever witnessed. Several reporters have told me something like, "Man, it must be great covering these guys!" To which I respond, "Well, how do you think Steve Goff stays looking so young and vigorous?"
Yesterday at their early practice at the University of Denver, Campbell engaged in a shooting contest with Chris Fleming. The score was surprisingly close until a D.C. camera guy stood close to Campbell and tape began rolling. Campbell started giggling, kept saying "You know I love it when the camera's on me!" and made about 10 straight shots, burying poor Fleming.
Things didn't really change when they moved on to Pepsi Center for the evening shootaround. The most intense drill was one player driving to the basket on another, and then at the basket, the defender hoisted the offensive player so he could perform a tricky dunk. I actually saw 6-foot Dre Smith do a windmill dunk, with the aid of Jordan Carter.
The best part, though, came with about 10 minutes left. Larranaga, still wearing his Final Four sneakers , strolled to center court and said, "OK, guys, one game of knockout." I was way more excited than I should have been. In high school, I used to skip lunch and study hall with my buddy Nolan and play knockout and H-O-R-S-E for like an hour almost every day. I was really, really, excited.
The results of the game, which was played from the three-point line, in descending order of finish:
11th place: Fleming, knocked out by Will Thomas.
10: Smith, in an upset, knocked out by John Vaughn
9: Louis Birdsong, knocked out by Campbell
8: Vlad Moldoveanu, knocked out Campbell
7: Cam Long, knocked out by Thomas
6: Carter, knocked out by Isaiah Tate
5: Thomas, knocked out by Campbell (You could tell they're friends - Campbell said, "I'm sorry," to much laughter from the strong Mason fan contingent.)
(Note: The Final Four moved back to the NBA three-point line.)
4. Darryl Monore, knocked out by Vaughn
3. Tate, knocked out by Campbell
2. Vaughn, knocked out by Campbell
Campbell earned the victory by knocking out five of 10 competitors, including the final two and three of the final four. His victory came when Vaughn bricked a deep three off the right side of the rim, and the ball bounded all the way to the corner. Campbell missed his shot, but grabbed the rebound in time to make a reverse dunk, which finished off with a wide smile and a crotch grab. No one has ever look less menacing while dunking and doing a crotch grab than Campbell.
When the game ended, the Patriots still had about two minutes left to practice. Larranaga gathered the players at midcourt and told them to go into the crowd, sign autographs and thank the fans for coming and supporting them. So all 11 players climbed into the stands, shaking hands and pretty making small kids' lives.
That was awesome. It sure looked like a lot of fun.
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