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March 2006

GMU basketball by the numbers

Jim Larranaga
Base annual salary of GMU men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga: $200,000
Bonus earned for making it to the final four: $70,000
Bonus earned for topping 19 wins (the team is 27-7): $25,000
Longevity bonus: $25,000

Additional bonus if he wins the NCAA Championship: $30,000
Total earned to date for 2005-2006: $320,000

vs.

Billy Donovan
Total base salary package of University of Florida men's basketball coach Billy Donovan:
$1.7 MILLION
Bonus earned for making the Final Four: $100,000
Additional bonus if he wins the championship: $50,000
Additional bonus if the Gators finish in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll: $50,000
Additional bonis if he is named AP coach of the year: $50,000

More fun figures:

Final Four T-shirts sold by GMU Bookstore this week:  8,000. At $19 apiece, that's $152,000

Value of media exposure to GMU: $4 million

Potential value by winning it all: $10-12 million

GMU athletic department operating budget for 2005-2006 season: $1.37 million (that's the ENTIRE department for all sports!)

GMU men's basketball budget: $237,000

Sources: Bloomberg, AP


Who the hell was George Mason?

From USA TODAY editorial page, 28 March 2006:

Final Four's Founding Father

George Mason hasn't gotten this much attention in more than 200 years.

The man that is, not the upstart basketball team that has put his name in headlines over the past two weeks by upsetting some of the NCAA's biggest names.

Mason was a Virginia planter who came out of retirement to provide a much-needed contrarian view at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Fortunately for Americans today, he was just as good at beating the odds as the team that made history Sunday by becoming the first No. 11 seed in 20 years to reach the NCAA tournament's Final Four.

Mason was among those who opposed adopting the draft constitution because it had no language to protect individual rights. They failed at first. But the Declaration of Rights Mason had written into Virginia's constitution 11 years earlier became the model for the Bill of Rights that was adopted in 1791 as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. It became Americans' guarantee of free speech, free association, religious liberty and all our other fundamental freedoms.

Had Mason been as successful on a second priority, the country might also have avoided its greatest trauma. He strenuously opposed including in the Constitution the infamous compromise that allowed the slave trade to continue until 1808. Mason denounced slave labor as "disgraceful to mankind" and urged its end. It took a bloody Civil War more than 70 years later to end slavery, and the nation is still living with its legacy.

Abolishment of slavery and adoption of a Bill of Rights might not have been a 4 million-to-1 shot — as USA TODAY's sports analyst Danny Sheridan put the Patriots' chances at the beginning of the NCAA tournament. But at the time, they probably weren't as good as Monday's 6-1 odds.

By naming a new state university after Mason in 1972, Virginia paid belated tribute to one of the least remembered of the major figures among the Founding Fathers.

Whatever happens in the Final Four this weekend, Mason's name should now besynonymous with against-the-odds perseverance and success.


No F*#ing way

If I may digress from the GMU banter for a moment, I just heard (we get news late in London) that HBO is planning a series based on the life of Jessica "I'm not all that" Cutler, the so-called Washingtonienne chick who garnered 15 minutes of fame basically for getting buggered by rich and powerful DC Republicans.  Not only that, she somehow managed to capitalized on her bedroom antics into a book and lame blog. Who are the idiots who are paying for her crap? She's basically becoming rich and famous for spreading her legs while the rest of us journos are shlepping paycheck to paycheck.

Ok, yes, i'm jealous.


George Mason: Living the Dream

Poll: If GMU's march to the Final Four is made into a movie, who will play the leads?  Here's my suggestion for Jim Larranaga: Alan Alda.

Plarranaga91003_1 Alanalda_1

Send your other suggestions for Lamar Butler and the rest of the Patriots gang to me and I'll post the images ASAP!

Mason's improbable march is the biggest story in GMU history. At the same time, I have been a bit peeved at the sudden rush to jump on the bandwagon from Mason students and alumni alike.

I'm talking about the morons who had no idea we even had a b-ball team until this month, while those of us who have stuck with Mason through thick and thin (mostly thin) have been there from the beginning. Oh well, I guess that's the price of fame!

As an example of the sudden interest in all-things Mason, the web traffic to this little family blog has tripled in recent days as a result of people googling such search terms as "Jim Larranaga," "GMU t-shirts," "George Mason Jerseys" and even "Who was George Mason?". Until last week, my google traffic came from people searching for "Maryland blue crabs," "crab recipies" and, yes, "crabs and body lice."

In the meantime, check out this fantastic article in today's New York Times:

George Mason Won, and Now It's Found

FAIRFAX, Va., March 27 — George Mason stood in the center of the campus that bears his name wearing a green-and-gold cape and other mementos of victory — a T-shirt, signs of support and, later in the day, green and gold balloons tied to his wrist. A proud bronze statue had gone schlock, and people stopped to take pictures.

Inside the bookstore at the Johnson Center, hundreds lined up to pay $18.95 for one of the 2,000 shirts that had arrived proclaiming George Mason a Final Four team. In the food court, a replay of Sunday's 86-84 overtime victory against Connecticut played on a screen high overhead. Near the back, Folarin Campbell, a sophomore guard on the team, signed autographs. Two weeks ago, he rarely got a second glance.

"I think we kind of woke George Mason up," he said.

This sleepy and leafy suburban campus of nearly 30,000 students, tucked in the rolling hills about 20 miles from Washington, is reveling in its instant fame. Inside Patriot Circle, the road that rings most of campus, there is a sense of having finally been discovered.

Outside Patriot Circle, however, George Mason is being portrayed as the endearing little college that could, with the basketball team that can.

Those portrayals are a stretch. George Mason is not an sports powerhouse, but it is not exactly Hickory High from "Hoosiers," either.

"It's because people don't know us," said Tom O'Connor, the athletic director, standing in a stylish basketball locker room in a 10,000-seat on-campus arena that is about to receive $15 million in improvements. He oversees 120 full-time employees and a $10 million annual budget.

There are haves and have-nots in college basketball, and George Mason has garnered celebrity status for being the first so-called have-not to make the Final Four since 1979. The differences between it and the other teams in the Final Four — Florida, Louisiana State and U.C.L.A. — can be easily charted by talent, money and tradition.

After all, most of George Mason's players were overlooked by bigger-name universities. And George Mason's athletics budget, not supported by a football program, pales compared with those of Florida ($63 million), L.S.U. ($55 million) and U.C.L.A. ($42 million).

George Mason's coach, Jim Larranaga, makes about $200,000 a year. According to each university, Florida's Billy Donovan makes about $1.7 million a year, L.S.U.'s John Brady about $715,000, and U.C.L.A.'s Ben Howland about $920,000.

In other words, George Mason represents one-fourth of the Final Four, and its biggest story. But it also represents only about 5.9 percent of the athletics budgets of the universities taking part, and just 5.7 percent of the head-coaching salaries.

The other three universities in the Final Four have combined for 164 team national championships. George Mason has two — women's soccer in 1985 and men's indoor track and field in 1996.

George Mason aspires to raise its sports programs, but has no illusions of becoming Florida, L.S.U. or U.C.L.A. "We know our niche," O'Connor said.

One thing George Mason would like a larger slice of, however, is exposure. It is the catalyst for talent and the precursor to money. And a trip to the Final Four is free advertising for a university that, on some fronts, is making its national debut.

Larranaga sat in his large office Monday afternoon speaking with reporters. He joked that it had never been so crowded; people spilled out the door, where enlarged copies of last week's Sports Illustrated cover, featuring guard Lamar Butler, leaned against a wall, waiting to be hung.

Someone asked if Larranaga would be out recruiting if not for the Final Four.

"I am recruiting right now," he said.

He received a telephone message from a prospective recruit's mother after Sunday's game. "I watched the game," Larranaga said the woman said. "It was awesome. Go Coach L! Go George Mason!"

Just like that, George Mason had credibility.

"It's why the high majors have so much success in the recruiting area," Larranaga said. "You become familiar."

That is all the university wants — to be more familiar. Thanks to its basketball team, it is being introduced to a broad audience. On Sunday night the "Today" show had a camera crew at the arena, the Patriot Center, where 8,000 people welcomed the team home. A university that rarely receives more than casual mentions in the local news media had television trucks parked around campus. Cameras and reporters crowded around the cash register at the bookstore to catch the mayhem of T-shirt sales.

On the second floor of the Johnson Center, the door of the admissions office was covered with news articles about the basketball team. Inside, the dean of admissions, Andrew Flagel, had a succession of media interviews.

On Saturday, 300 prospective students took a tour of the campus — about triple the typical number, Flagel said. The phone was ringing about once a minute; it normally might ring once every five.

Flagel, like others at George Mason, sees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sell the university.

"There is no way an institution of higher learning can responsibly spend the type of money it would take to replicate this type of exposure," he said.

Flagel is quick with the pitch — George Mason is the largest state university of Virginia, and students come from every state and 140 countries. He listed the better-known departments. He talked about George Mason researchers who have garnered acclaim for their roles in searching for cures for cancer and Alzheimer's disease, among others.

"Now, I hate to compare them," Flagel said, almost incredulous at the words he was about to say. "But if they cured cancer or Alzheimer's, the attention we'd receive might compare to the Final Four."

Outside, hundreds of students watched the replay of the game. Hundreds of others waited in line for T-shirts. And a bronze man stood in the sunshine, dressed for a party.


I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES!

All that Glitters is Green and Gold

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GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY - 86
CONNECTICUT - 84

Next stop: Indianapolis - GMU vs. Florida.

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From The Crabby Critic:  To say that I am delerious would be an understatement.  My alma mater, George Mason University, that until this month was just a big commuter school in suburban Virginia, is going to the FINAL F*CKING FOUR!!!!

The slipper fits. David slaughters Goliaths. Insert your own analogy/cliche here.

And if there is a God, he/she certainly has a sense of humor: Billy "Dumb" Packer and Jim "Dumber" Nantz, the two Brokeback CBS sports commentators who earlier this month criticized GMU's invitation to the NCAA tournament as "undeserving," will be commentating Saturday's GMU vs. Florida game. And then there's this guy, Gregg "Dumbass" Doyel, a CBS Sportsline commentator who wrote, and I quote: "George Mason can't beat UConn. Not on Sunday at the Verizon Center for the region title. Not on Halloween in an empty gym. Not tomorrow at the playground. Not ever. Connecticut is too big-fast-strong-deep for George  Mason"

Uhh, huh huh, uh, you were saying, Doyel baby? Dude, what the hell is wrong with CBS?  Viacom needs to get their head out of the sand. Wake up and smell the coffee. We just opened up a can of whoop ass on ya'll! 

A Roundup of today's GMU b-ball coverage:
 

Img9339070_1 The Washington Post: Jai Lewis hung the shreds of what remained of the basketball net around his thick neck. Lamar Butler, flashing a smile as wide as he is tall, tucked the string he had clipped from the net under the bill of his cap. Coach Jim Larranaga, 56, shimmied into a freshly printed T-shirt emblazoned with "Washington, D.C. Regional Champions," while delirious George Mason fans, their voices raw from screaming, snapped photos of the wild celebration with digital cameras and cellphones. All of the detritus, no doubt, will be preserved for decades to come as mementos of the greatest day of their lives: The day the school in Fairfax pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history by toppling top-seeded Connecticut, a two-time national champion, to earn a trip to the NCAA men's basketball tournament's Final Four.

Michael Wilbon: "...Yesterday, the Patriots shocked the world. Maybe -- okay, probably -- this is the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. ...The details of the game will fade over time, except perhaps Denham Brown's shot bouncing three times on the left side of the rim before falling to force overtime (at which point everybody in the building not sitting on the George Mason bench thought Connecticut would win). But the outcome, the feeling in the arena, the realization that George Mason -- for cryin' out loud -- had reached the Final Four is everlasting. To think Larranaga had walked around earlier in the day humming the theme from Mission: Impossible. To think, in an attempt to keep his players laughing and loose, he said to them: 'Do you know what CAA stands for? It stands for Connecticut Assassins Association . . . should you choose to accept this assignment.'"

                    The Broadside:  (Back from their drunken escapades in Cancun or wherever the hell they've been during what was only the biggest story in Mason history):   "Livin’ on a Prayer”: Mason Stuns Connecticut, 86-84 in Overtime. Indianapolis, site of this year’s Final Four and college basketball’s national championship game, sits smack-dab in the middle of Indiana, some 600 miles from Fairfax. For the George Mason University men’s basketball team, the distance is but a small annoyance, for Indianapolis means just one thing to the Patriots: they get to keep playing basketball. Mason continued its improbable run through the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, defeating the top-seeded University of Connecticut 86-84 in overtime to secure the school’s first-ever berth in the Final Four.

Reuters - George Mason pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in NCAA tournament history by beating top-seeded Connecticut 86-84 in overtime Sunday to win the Washington Regional and advance to the Final Four.

USA TODAY: Cinderella men dance on.  George Mason University, the outside-the-Beltway outsider turned belle of the ball, is going to the Final Four. And at this point, four wins into what could become the most incredible run in NCAA men's basketball tournament history, it's clear the Patriots can win it. (includes embarrasing sidebar interview with point guard Tony Skinn admitting he has no "no clue who George Mason was.")

CBS.com - George Mason, the suburban commuter school from Fairfax, Va., beat top-seeded Connecticut 86-84 in overtime Sunday in the Washington Regional final, ending the stranglehold that big-time programs have enjoyed for 27 years in college basketball's biggest showcase.

Story of the day
Img9339080_1 Associated Press -- The Final Four has been dominated by college basketball's big boys for more than a quarter of a century, with powerful teams and tournament-tested conferences gathering at the end of the season to sort out the champion.

Well, this year will be a little different.

The main culprit is George Mason, a commuter school in suburban Virginia that never had won a single game in the NCAA tournament until two weeks ago.

Also headed to the national semifinals next weekend in Indianapolis: LSU, Florida and UCLA. Like George Mason, LSU and Florida never have won an NCAA title; UCLA dominated college basketball by winning 10 in the 1960s and 1970s, but had fallen on harder times of late.

Img9339032_1 Seeded 11th in their quarter of the field, George Mason is the first team since 1986 to be slated that low and reach the Final Four. And they're the biggest outsider — no basketball tradition to speak of, not a member of a major conference, no superstar player — since Ivy League school Penn made it in 1979.

How did they do it? With a string of consistent, defensive-minded performances, the latest an 86-84 overtime victory over top-seeded Connecticut in the Washington Regional final Sunday.

"We don't mind being the Cinderella," George Mason guard Tony Skinn said.

Apparently, there was more than one pair of glass slippers lying around. This is the first time since 1980 that none of the four teams seeded No. 1 reached the Final Four.

George Mason now faces No. 4-seeded Florida, which knocked off another No. 1 seed, Villanova, 75-62 in the Minneapolis Regional final.

Vzn13003262131widec In next Saturday's other Final Four game, No. 4-seeded LSU will play No. 2-seeded UCLA. Led by gregarious and 310-pound Glen "Big Baby" Davis, LSU won the Oakland Regional final by beating No. 2 seed Texas 70-60 in overtime Saturday. UCLA defeated No. 1 seed Memphis 50-45 at the Atlanta Regional.

"Nobody could have predicted what we've seen — not just this afternoon, but this whole tournament," NCAA selection committee chairman Craig Littlepage said on the court after George Mason cut the nets down to celebrate. "It's affirmation that this is a great game."

As anyone who's ever participated in an NCAA pool at the office knows, there always are upsets at this event. Hence the term, "March Madness."

But it's been quite awhile since there were this many surprises.

The last time no No. 1 made the tournament's showcase was also the last year neither the Big East nor the Atlantic Coast Conference had at least one Final Four team; those high-profile leagues combined to produce the past five national champions, including the ACC's North Carolina last year, and the Big East's Connecticut in 2004.

George Mason eliminated both of those schools, despite having relatively smaller players not thought of as NBA prospects.

"They don't measure heart by inches, they don't measure courage, they don't measure basketball instinct and intelligence," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, whose team has three or four players probably headed to the pros.

The Patriots, he added, "are not on a magic carpet ride because there's any myth there. They are good. They are really, really good."

Img9339081Perhaps, but George Mason's basketball program is certainly unheralded: The team never has been ranked in The Associated Press poll, and it lost two of its last four games before the NCAA tournament.

Its players are unheralded. Asked this weekend who recruited him out of high school, forward Will Thomas joked: "George Mason, George Mason, George Mason. I'm glad I chose George Mason."

Its conference is unheralded, too. It had been 20 years since the Colonial Athletic Association received two invitations to the NCAA tournament, and some Connecticut players weren't able to name which league the Patriots play in.

All of the above are among the reasons that some, including CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer, questioned whether George Mason deserved to go to the tournament at all. The considerable Mason cheering section at Sunday's game — played about 20 miles from the school's Fairfax, Va., campus — broke into taunting chants of "Bill-y! Pack-er!" before and after the game, even though he wasn't announcing.

When Lamar Butler hit a 3-pointer to give George Mason only its second lead of the game, at 52-51 about halfway through the second half, Connecticut called a timeout. While Patriots coach Jim Larranaga stood with his arms crossed, smiling, Butler and a couple of teammates looked up at the scoreboard, mouths open.

Perhaps they were wondering, "Can this really be happening?"

It sure was.

Captvzn10103262352ncaa_george_mason_conn

The Scene setter

Fans swarm George Mason

Underdogs secure Final Four spot

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

No burning mattresses, no bonfires. Just unrestrained jubilation after George Mason advanced to the Final Four.

After George Mason's 86-84 overtime victory over top-seeded Connecticut on Sunday, more than 7,000 students stormed what is normally a sleepy campus on weekends for a pep rally at what is essentially a commuter school.

"I didn't even know they had a basketball team," said freshman Mar'esha "Dumbass" Farrish of Hopewell, Va.

One of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, the scene at the Patriot Center pep rally reflected that diversity. Coeds wearing Muslim head scarves cheered raucously alongside face-painted frat boys when coach Jim Larranaga and the squad entered the arena a little before 8 p.m.

The players were taken aback when they walked on the court and were greeted with a nearly full arena and a deafening roar.

"Man, we never even had this many people here for a basketball game," senior guard Tony Skinn said.

Did he resent any of the fans hopping on the bandwagon as the team progressed through the tournament?

"No, I'm cool with it. I'm cool with it," he said, pumping his fist.

Indeed, the team averages a little more than 4,000 fans for home games, leaving it to play in front of mostly empty arenas.

Senior Jason "Dumbass" Obenschain, who dyed his hair green, admitted that he had never been to a game before and only became interested in the tournament over spring break when some friends clued him in.

"It's really weird to see all this," Obenschain said.

Before the pep rally, nearly 2,000 students watched the game in the student union, and nearly all admitted they were pessimistic about Mason's chances when Connecticut forced the game into overtime with a last-second layup.

When Mason finally secured the win, "all hell broke loose," said junior Christina Bahrami from Fairfax. Students drove through campus, leaning out windows and exchanging high-fives with pedestrians.

"This has been the most unifying thing on campus that I've seen," said senior Casey Langdon, who wore a shirt with "Mason is Kryptonite" written on the back, paraphrasing the nationally televised pregame pep talk Larranaga gave his players before they defeated defending champion North Carolina in the second round.

People kept swarming into the Patriot Center after the victory. A crowd of about 2,000 was expected, and arena officials eventually had to open up the entire building to accommodate the crowd.

Jerry Tuben, a 1986 alumnus who lives near the campus, said he was surprised to see such a large crowd.

"The home games even lately haven't been selling out," he said. "Hopefully this will carry over and start something big."

The excitement over Mason's run is already having an impact, said Mason's director of admissions, Andrew Flagel.

"The phone is ringing off the hook," he said.

The 11th-seeded Patriots matched the 1986 LSU team as the lowest seed to reach the Final Four. They are the first team from a mid-major conference to get there since Penn of the Ivy League and Indiana State of the Missouri Valley in 1979.

Before knocking off Connecticut, George Mason beat No. 6 Michigan State 75-65, No. 3 North Carolina 65-60 and No. 7 Wichita State 63-55.


DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!?!!!

R3285129709

My alma mater, George Mason University, has just advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. And to think, just a few weeks ago when the March Madness brackets were announced , most college basketball fans outside of the DC area where saying, "WHO THE F*CK IS GEORGE MASON?"

GO GREEN!

GO GOLD!

FIGHT!

FIGHT!

FIGHT!

P.S. I'd also like to take this opportunity to tell the GMU students who now run the once-great "Broadside" student newspaper to GET OFF YOUR KEISTER and update your damn website.  I don't care if it was spring break; this is possibly the biggest story in George Mason University's short history. As of yesterday, Broadside's home page story was still displaying GMU's loss in the CAA tournament. Uhh, that was like THREE WEEKS AGO. What the hell?  Ok whatever; i'm too exstatic to be angry.

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George Mason Pulls Off Victory Over Wichita State, 63-55

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lamar Butler dribbled out the final seconds of George Mason's latest improbable victory, then dropped the ball and wagged eight fingers toward a TV camera.

As in, "Round of eight, here we come!"

Captvzn13403250311ncaa_george_mason_wich Butler hopped and skipped to the locker room, yelling over and over: "We're not even supposed to be here!"

Playing a short drive from George Mason's campus, Folarin Campbell scored 16 points and the 11th-seeded Patriots used a shutdown defense to beat seventh-seeded Wichita State 63-55 Friday night in a mid-major matchup, moving within one victory of the Final Four.

"We've been trying to prove ourselves all year. We heard what the critics were saying -- that we didn't belong in the tournament," senior guard Tony Skinn said. "The confidence level has risen, and we've gotten a chance to show the country what we're capable of."

Captvzn13603250316ncaa_george_mason_wich_1 Plenty, such as denying the ball to Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Paul Miller, who led the Shockers with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Wichita State's second-leading scorer, Sean Ogirri, who had all of four points on 1-for-8 shooting.

Wichita State finished 20-for-64 on field-goal attempts, including a startling 3-for-24 on 3-pointers. The tone was set early, as George Mason broke out to a 9-0 lead and took a 35-19 edge into halftime, thanks in large part to Wichita State's 9-for-30 shooting from the field to that point, 1-for-11 on 3s.

"As hard as I tried," Shockers coach Mark Turgeon said, "I couldn't get them out of that funk."

2006_03_25t014957_284x450_us_ncaab_mason How unexpected was George Mason's giddy, bracket-disrupting run through the NCAA Tournament? The Patriots didn't receive a single vote in this season's final AP Top 25 -- and never had won a single game at the NCAA Tournament until last week.

But they stunned sixth-seeded Michigan State and No. 3-seeded North Carolina, the defending national champion. George Mason's defense was superb in those games, too, as was Campbell, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who, like the rest of the Patriots' starting five, hails from nearby Maryland.

He averaged only 10.7 points this season, but that's up to 17.4 in the tournament. How fitting: An unheralded player lifting an unheralded team.

2006_03_25t015010_450x341_us_ncaab_mason_1 "Every time we go out there," Butler said, "we feel we have something to prove."

Butler and Skinn added 14 points apiece for the Patriots (26-7), who will meet top-seeded Connecticut in Sunday's Washington Regional final. UConn beat fifth-seeded Washington 98-92 in overtime in Friday night's second game. So now Connecticut will have to figure out a way to dent the Patriots' tough D. They tied for eighth in Division I this season by holding opponents under 39 percent shooting and shut down Michigan State and North Carolina for long stretches.

2006_03_25t014933_419x450_us_ncaab_mason "They're very well-coached. They've caused a lot of problems for a lot of teams," said Wichita State's Kyle Wilson, who scored 12 points and helped his team make the final score respectable.

But Wichita State (26-9) just couldn't put the ball in the bucket often enough to make a real game of it.

George Mason led by as many as 19 in the second half, and Wichita State's offense never got going consistently. One sequence, with about 2½ minutes left, captured the Shockers' rough night: They got three straight offensive rebounds, but the first two putbacks were strongly contested and didn't fall, and on the third, P.J. Couisnard simply missed an open layup.

Captvzn14003250342ncaa_george_mason_wich Wichita State started hitting some shots late, getting as close as 62-55 on Wilson's 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. But that was it, and George Mason held on despite shaky foul shooting, then jumped on each other, shouted and pointed to their vocal cheering section.

The Shockers were playing about 1,200 miles from Wichita, Kan. George Mason's main campus, in Fairfax, Va., is about 20 miles from the Verizon Center, where the Patriots played one "home" game this season.

More than three hours before tipoff, dozens of George Mason fans were milling around outside in yellow shirts, green caps, "Go Mason" signs, and even the occasional three-cornered black hat that's something the original Mr. Mason might have worn in the 1700s when he was writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights -- upon which the Constitution's Bill of Rights was based.

Campbell helped get the local fans into the game, waving his arms toward them as he ran back on defense after making each of his first three 3-point attempts. Wichita State's first six possessions went this way, meanwhile: two missed field goals, three turnovers and a blocked shot.

That the Shockers and Patriots were playing at all at this stage was a bit of vindication for mid-major schools. The Shockers reached the regional semifinals by beating the Big East's Seton Hall and the SEC's Tennessee, which was seeded second.

There were questions on Selection Sunday about whether the MVC deserved all four of its NCAA invitations and whether the Patriots belonged as an at-large choice from the Colonial Athletic Association, in part because the team lost two of its last four games.

That they belong is no longer in doubt. But how far can they go?

"Anything," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said, "is possible."

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Iraq the model


IMG_3017
Originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Letter to the Editor from the Orlando Sentinel (which, incidentally, turned me down for a job many many years ago). Published here without comment:

Dear Mr. President:
The only thing I ask is make sure fellow warriors do not die in vain
Charles M. Grist

March 15, 2006



President George W. Bush

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

You recently received in the mail the shoulder boards and the Naval Aviator's wings belonging to Joseph W. DuRocher of Orlando. Mr. Durocher mailed those to you as a symbol of his opposition to you and your policies in the war on terror.

In his letter to you, Mr. DuRocher said that you had "dishonored our service and the Constitution and principles of our oath." Mr. Durocher, a self-defined "disciplined pacifist," forgot that he was the one who had sworn to defend the Constitution, that he was the one who had sworn the oath and that he was the one who would bring either honor or dishonor to his own service.

When I swore my own oath as a young second lieutenant in the Army in 1969, I took on the responsibility to defend my country and its way of life no matter who was sitting in the White House. When my mother pinned on the gold bars of my rank, I began to walk a long road that led through Vietnam. I am proud to say that my service continues today, even a year and a half after I returned from Iraq as one of the Army's oldest reservists.

When we went to war in Iraq, I had my own doubts about whether the time was right. I would probably have preferred to devote our resources to the pursuit of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden until the last cave on Earth has been searched. However, I am a soldier, and I obey my orders. I must have faith in the decisions of my leaders, and I had faith in yours.

Mistakes may have been made in evaluating the pre-war intelligence, but, when I was in Iraq in 2004, there were already rumors that Saddam Hussein had shipped his weapons of mass destruction to Syria. Whether this was true or whether he renewed his weapons program later, this brutal dictator was intent on developing such weapons, and eventually we would have to deal with him.

There are few absolutes in war; there are even fewer certainties. One certainty about the war on terror is that Islamic fundamentalists are intent on destroying our way of life. They have said as much, and their own definition of success will be a world whose liberties and freedoms have been crushed by religious fanaticism and where the quality of life is determined by ayatollahs and mullahs.

As a citizen, I may not agree with everything that has transpired during the war in Iraq or with every one of your policies or decisions. I do know that you care deeply about this country, because I have seen it in your face. I know that you carry the burden of loss for each and every one of our fellow citizens who died in this war, whether in America on Sept. 11 or on the battlefields throughout the world.

My only request of you as our leader is that you make sure that my fellow warriors do not die in vain. There must never be another black wall in Washington with the names of Americans who gave their lives for a politically abandoned cause. You said we would go after the terrorists and their supporters wherever they were and that we would bring them to justice. Your warriors considered that a mandate, and they carry it with them into every battle.

I will not mail my lieutenant's bars to you; I will not give up my sergeant's chevrons. I will not abdicate my duty to join my fellow service members in the defense of my country, either here or abroad. I was a soldier before you were president, and I will be a soldier when someone else is sitting in your office, even if I have been forced to retire.

Unlike Mr. DuRocher, I will never lose faith in my country, and I will never, ever quit.

Sincerely,

Charles M. Grist

Winter Springs

Charles M. Grist is a police officer and a veteran of both Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom.