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George Mason Basketball

George Mason Basketball: July 2006

Monday, July 17, 2006

Recruiting Class of 2006

Andre Smith - PG, 6'0", (Cohise CC): Averaged 25 points a game which ranked him #4 nationwide in JUCO scoring. Final Four run had a part in helping Smith to choose the Patriots over Creighton and Mississippi State. A pure scorer who can create and should help fill the void left by Tony Skinn.

Louis Birdsong - F, 6'6", 195 lbs (Mount St. Joseph HS): Very athletic, strong mid major prospect and was Baltimore Sun player of the year. Ranked #40 in the nation for his position by Birdsong is a tough inside scorer who also has a mid-range shot.

Darryl Monroe - F/C, 6'7", 235 lbs (Central Florida CC): Another top JUCO recruit with great hands and passing ability. Averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds a game as a freshman. Has the size to play center and can hopefully step in early and play next to Will Thomas.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Season Outlook

George Mason enters next season as one of the most successful mid-majors in college basketball history. A Final Four run that will be remembered forever. But now Mason enters the 2006-2007 season losing three key players that inspired that run in the post season. Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn, and Lamar Butler were all 1,000+ point scorers in their careers at GMU. That is something that is difficult for any program to replace. Coach Larranaga has proven that he can find great players right in our own back yard. Skinn, Butler, and Lewis are all from Maryland, and all were overlooked by bigger programs in the area such as Maryland and Georgetown. Jai Lewis for instance was viewed by many schools as a fat, slow, and undersized center. Three years later Jai's size and ability to run the floor was making him a leading rebounder in the CAA and a tough customer defensively inside, also earning him the attention of NFL scouts. Forward Will Thomas and guard Folarin Campbell are also local players from Maryland that greatly stepped up in their sophomore seasons. Their experience in the NCAA postseason will give them an edge this season in the CAA. They will need it as they will be counted on to lead Mason this season as the only returning starters.

Despite the loss of their top three scorers, Mason returns some promising players. Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell will lead a young group of Patriots who will enjoy a much deeper bench. Campbell will most likely lead the team in scoring this season at the point. Thomas will be the go to guy in many situation as he was late last season. The only returning senior that has experience is Gabe Norwood, whose defensive presence helped the Patriots win some close games in the tournament. Norwood's knowledge of Larranaga's patented "scramble defense" will make a starter this season. Another possible starter is redshirt Sophomore John Vaughn who missed all of last season with an ACL tear. As a freshman Vaughn joined Campbell and Thomas with CAA all-rookie honors. This past season he practiced with the team and seemed to be back in full form. He will most likely start if he can return to 100% form, which can be difficult considering the nature of the injury. Jesus Urbina is a similar story who was also redshirted last season due to an injury. Urbina will most likely be needed to step in and contribute on the front lines with the loss of Jai Lewis. Another forward who will see more playing time is Sammy Hernandez who made a name for himself hitting clutch shots in the CAA and NCAA tournaments. He is an undersized forward but makes up for it with an outside shot and aggressiveness on the boards. All of these players were be challenged for playing time by Larranga's strong incoming recruiting class.

The CAA will not be as strong as last season, in which 2 teams got bids to the NCAA tournament and 2 more played in the NIT. A great season such as that will be hard to top for the CAA, especially with all the new faces that will be around next season. Northeastern, UNCW, and VCU have new head coaches, while GMU and Hofstra were able to lock up theres for a long time with contract extensions. Tom Pecora returning to Hofstra is a huge boost, many thought he would be gone with all the offers coming in. His return with the combination of the Pride's returning backcourt make them an easy favorite to be a top that CAA next season. Returning guards Loren Stokes (who is known better to Mason fans as the guy Tony Skinn took out some frustration on) and Antoine Agudio, both of whom averaged over 17 points a game last season, will be one of the best backcourts in the NCAA. Hofstra has lost some power up front, which may give them problems if former bench players can't fill the role. As in recent seasons, Old Dominion will again be a strong team battling atop the CAA. Head coach Blaine Taylor has had great success over the last three seasons and still has the talent to win despite losing their top two scorers. Whether or not senior forward Arnaud Dahi can fully recover from off season knee surgery will most likely determine if the Monarchs will see postseason action. UNCW will mostly be taking a step back with new head coach Brad Brownell, but they still possess T.J. Carter who at the end of last season was looking like a possible player of the year for the conference. Drexel is a team on a the rise as they return their entire squad from last season that gave Duke and UCLA a run for their money in the pre-season NIT. After last season its hard to predict what can happen next, as no one could have predicted GMU dancing to the final four and Hofstra and ODU going deep in the NIT. The bar has been set very high and this season should be an interesting one with the possibility of a very important February 10th meeting between Hofstra and GMU in Fairfax which might determine who is atop the conference.

Although it would seem like the CAA is guaranteed to be a multiple bid conference for the tournament after last season, it will most likely will be difficult and they will again need some luck. The CAA proved that their so called "mid-major" teams can hang with the best the NCAA can bring. Mason knocked off three recent national champions on their run through the tournament, but they and the rest of the CAA will have to fight all over again to prove that they belong in the a tournament. So far Mason is not ducking anyone in terms of scheduling with a game set against Duke on December 9 and possibly fellow mid-major power Bucknell in the annual BB&T classic in D.C. The CAA conference is again within Mason's grasp and their growing rivarly with Hofstra will make things very interesting. To make the NCAA tournament again without winning the automatic bid from the conference tournament will be more difficult for Mason this year, but not totally out of the question.

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