- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Paul Hewitt’s second season at George Mason might not resemble his debut on several levels.

In the Colonial Athletic Association, Virginia Commonwealth is gone and fellow power Old Dominion is on its way out. Hewitt’s Patriots will stick around but must replace a valuable pair of post presences.

Even with a changing landscape, though, Hewitt is much more familiar with his surroundings than at this time a year ago.

“It’s like putting on a jacket; the more you wear it, the more comfortable it is,” Hewitt said Tuesday at the CAA’s media day in Arlington. “I guess I’m even more appreciative of the opportunity. Last year when it happened, I just kind of got thrown into it. My head was still spinning a little bit. Now, I’ve had the chance to go through a full season, see what it’s like from the administration down.”

There was plenty to like. Hewitt inherited a veteran team coming off an NCAA tournament round of 32 appearance and went 24-9, finishing third in the regular season. Ryan Pearson earned the CAA’s player of the year award. Energetic forward Mike Morrison often served as the team’s bellwether and produced the best year of his career.

Pearson and Morrison, who were recruited and fit well into former coach Jim Larranaga’s preferred style of play, are gone. Without them, the Patriots lose their top two scorers and 40 percent of their rebounding.

But without an obvious star, Mason could adopt the more frenetic pace that Hewitt’s teams at Georgia Tech often employed. There is, though, one obvious caveat.

“We couldn’t wear those guys down, and we leaned on them so much,” Hewitt said. “At the same time, we have to take care of the ball, first and foremost. We turned the ball over far too many times last year, and that’s been a point of emphasis. The last point is yes, we want to run more. I think we’re capable of running more because we’re deeper and more balanced.”

So much of those plans are pinned on a backcourt that brings back plenty of contributors but few obvious stars. Bryon Allen and Vertrail Vaughns started for the first time last year, and now-sophomores Corey Edwards and Vaughn Gray acclimated themselves to the college game.

The top returning scorer is junior Sherrod Wright, who mixed a solid opening month and a game-winning buzzer-beater against VCU with inconsistency at both ends of the floor.

Wright was pegged as a second-team preseason all-conference player in voting released Tuesday.

“He’s getting there. I have to remind him from time to time,” Hewitt said. “He’s shooting the ball well. I don’t know how many guys in the country shoot over 40 percent from 3, over 50 from the floor, [85] at the free throw line. There’s not many guys who can do that. I still think he can rebound more, and I still think he can be a better defender.”

Mason will need improvement from much of its roster to return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus, and any run will go through different teams than in the past.

Realignment took VCU out of the picture, and Old Dominion and Georgia State are ineligible for the conference tournament. Preseason favorite Drexel (last year’s regular-season champion) and Delaware were picked to finish ahead of Mason.

That’s different, like so much else facing the Patriots and their second-year coach.

“If anything, I’m more excited than I was last year,” Hewitt said. “I think last year I was like ‘Hey, let’s just not mess this thing up,’ and I think we did a pretty decent job winning 24 ballgames.”