Mason. Indy. Whudathunkit?
As if the George Mason Patriots' improbable run weren't thrilling enough, the team today delivered two heartstopping endings, holding on in both regulation and overtime to put down a Connecticut squad that was the favorite to go all the way.
And then: The crowd at the Abe Pollin Center, louder than anything you've ever heard at a Wizards game, was all too polite. There weren't even enough actual Mason students and alumni to swarm the floor. But out in Fairfax, thousands of mid-career professionals and semi-permanent students and continuing ed addicts and part-time faculty are suddenly confronted with the fact that the school that gets all huffy when you call it a commuter college is now a serious contender, a Final Four university, the first such mid-major to make it to that exquisite status since 1979.
There's been a little bit of a tiff on the comment boards here on the big blog (see previous item) about Mason as a school, about whether it's a mere "13th grade" of extended high school for commuters or the high-status, high-achieving university that it has fought to become over the past generation.
One big basketball game won't change the winner of that debate. And much as the Mason university likes to boast that it has left its commuter school roots behind, the fact remains that 5 out of 6 Mason students still don't live on campus. But so what? The Patriots' incredible run has the potential to create community, to build something that hundreds of millions of dollars of construction in Fairfax has not quite done. The result could be a sense that all those buildings amount to a lasting identity, something that graduates will be proud of and stay close to far beyond commencement day, and for the larger community, a growing willingness to view Mason as not only the premier educational institution in northern Virginia, but a--gasp--the state's leading university.
And this is hardly Virginia's day exclusively. The remarkable team on the floor today was made up largely of products of Maryland schools, players who didn't quite elicit the entreaties of the top college recruiters. Lamar Butler hails from Fort Washington (Oxon Hill High) in Prince George's County and Folarin Campbell lived in Silver Spring, where he went to Springbrook High. Players from Aberdeen and Baltimore round out the Maryland contingent on Virginia's team.
Next year, of course, Mason will be able to compete for players who draw wider attention from the scouts. But the beauty of this achievement is that it shows there's still a way to win by finding the hidden gems and developing them through strong coaching.
And who knows? CAA hoops games might start to draw more than the 4,000 or so fans who til now have frequented the Patriot Center.
By Marc Fisher |
March 26, 2006; 5:14 PM ET
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