OK, maybe the game — a 68-50 loss to Notre Dame in the 2008 first round — wasn’t the best of memories.
But what about the throng of fans? Or playing in an NBA arena? Or the media horde (all right, that part might not be as much fun for some folks)?
And then there was perhaps the most unforgettable part of all: The police escort from the team hotel to the arena.
“It was a great thing,” said Long, now a senior for the Patriots. “It felt so good because you felt like you were an important person or an important team. Also, just getting out to Denver, we flew in a big [charter] plane. It wasn’t even a small one. We had so much space in the world and we got to enjoy the whole time.”
Now, he gets to again as his college career comes to a close.
Long and the eighth-seeded Patriots (26-6) will meet ninth-seeded Villanova on Friday in Cleveland. They’ll wear their home jerseys for the first time in six NCAA tournament appearances. They’ll face a Big East power they fell to on a last-minute shot a season ago.
But most significantly, they’ll try to live up to perhaps the biggest standard of all at Mason: Striving to be the team that has the most fun in the NCAA tournament.
“I think this is very, very important,” Larranaga said. “I think they know it. I’m not 100 percent sure they know this. The greatest thing Isaiah and Cam can do is smile and be happy. And they’ve done a lot of that this week. They’re excited. They’re enjoying it. And they’re playing and practicing great. It sends a message to their teammates: ‘You need to enjoy this, too. I’m having fun with this.’”
It’s hard not to when the end of a four-year journey includes a place in the NCAA tournament. As Mason was winning 16 in a row in the second half of the season, the prospect of reaching the tournament — and the joy it would produce — remained on Tate’s mind.
“Even earlier in the season, it was motivation,” Tate said. “We would tell them ‘Hey, we’ve been to the tournament and we want to get there. We have to put in this work to do it.’ We told them about our experiences there and how much fun it is.”
Both Tate and Long have on-court experiences from 2008 as well. Long played 18 minutes and scored four points on 1-for-6 shooting against Notre Dame, while Tate logged 16 minutes and had two points on 1-for-3 shooting for the Patriots.
Like Long, it was the details of the trip rather than simply the game that remain vivid.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Tate said. “We went out to Denver. We had the police escorts and all that. We had that one day of practice at the Pepsi Center, with media all over the place. It was a great experience.”View Entire Story
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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