George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor knew the sort of basketball coach and person he was hiring when he offered Paul Hewitt the chance to succeed Jim Larranaga in April.
Still, it was striking to receive an email from a player after the Patriots were well into their individual workouts before the start of practice in mid-October.
"It said, and I'm paraphrasing, 'Thank you for hiring coach Hewitt,'" O'Connor said. "I've never had that happen."
The personable Hewitt coached his first game at the Patriot Center on Monday, a 90-62 exhibition victory over Division III Lycoming. Mason's season begins Nov. 11 when Rhode Island visits Fairfax.
Hewitt, who previously coached at Siena and Georgia Tech, entered a seemingly delicate situation. Last season, the Patriots won the CAA's regular season title, matched a school record for victories in a season and advanced to the NCAA tournament's round of 32.
Even with Luke Hancock's decision to transfer to Louisville and the graduation of Cam Long and Isaiah Tate, Mason still possesses a veteran presence. Forwards Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson are established starters, and currently suspended guard Andre Cornelius has played plenty in his career.
There could be a few bumpy patches in the transition from one coach with a Final Four appearance to another. But there wasn't.
"These guys have been great," Hewitt said. "They have really, really been good in regards to 'Coach, you want to do this? Let's go. Let's do it.' They've really been good. I thought going in I would have to adapt more than them."
Granted, there is less experience in the backcourt than when Hewitt took the job. But the Patriots welcome his approach to the game.
Pearson said Hewitt will say something when he sees something he doesn't like. But he also believes he and his teammates have a measure of autonomy when they're on the court.
"For the most part, it's the players' world out there," Pearson said. "I think that's what I like about coach Hewitt the most. He really gives us that chance to let us play. A lot of coaches say 'I'm going to let you play,' but then they try to control it. … When coach Hewitt says 'I'm going to let you play as long as you're doing what you have to do,' he really means it."
Mason is expected to adopt an up-tempo style, hardly a surprise given the manner Hewitt's teams at Georgia Tech typically played. It's a break from the Patriots' past, but there is optimism a change in coaches won't lead to a change in results for one of the CAA's most consistent programs.
"I told Tom when he got him, 'You got lucky, man,' " said Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, who has known Hewitt since both were young assistants in the 1990s. "I thought Coach L was a great coach, and to be able to replace a guy like that with another [quality] guy, that doesn't happen all the time. By him being able to get Paul, I thought that was a great coup."
NOTE: Mason said Monday that forward Johnny Williams will redshirt this season as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.
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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 email@example.com.
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