CLEVELAND —- Look down the George Mason bench Sunday afternoon when the eighth-seeded Patriots meet Ohio State in the NCAA tournament round of 32, and it’ll be easy to spot several people enjoying themselves immensely.
Near the top of the list is a guy for whom the 2010-11 season would have been a massive disappointment if he allowed it to become one.
Instead, sophomore guard Sherrod Wright is enjoying the Patriots’ stay in March as much as anyone.
He’s attended every game George Mason (27-6) played this season, ate at every team meal and spent much of his time rehabbing a shoulder injury suffered in preseason practice.
“I’m still part of the team, even though I’m not playing,” Wright said. “I’m still helping out in practice. I still cheer for them and I’m still their biggest fan. I’ve been holding up pretty well just being positive about the whole situation.”
As well as the Patriots have played, rattling off 16 straight wins late in the regular season and upending Villanova on Friday at Quicken Loans Arena, they could have been deeper. Wright averaged 5.5 points in 16.1 minutes as a freshman and figured to be a crucial piece of Mason’s backcourt rotation.
At least until a torn labrum got in the way.
“I was guarding somebody and he ran by me, and he took my whole arm with me,” Wright said.
Surgery ensued, followed by what is now nearly five months of rehab.
But Wright never, ever went away, remaining a constant presence as the Patriots have matched a school record for victories in a season.
“He’s handled it great,” assistant Michael Huger said. “Of anybody, he handled it the best. He’s probably in the best shape of anybody. He’s a kid that works. You don’t have to tell him to work. We have to hold him back. He’s not a kid we have to tell ‘You have to do this, this and this.’ He’s a kid you have to tell ‘You need to stay out of the gym, you need to relax, you have to get your shoulder right and then you can go back,’ because he’ll overdo it.”
Wright decided when he underwent surgery he would take a redshirt year. A year without playing wasn’t always easy, but he knows when mid-November arrives, he’ll have another chance.
“I’m hyped,” Wright said. “I’m going to be eager to play.”
And with seniors Cam Long and Isaiah Tate graduating, Mason will be eager to have him back. Of course, the Patriots have happily embraced Wright all of this season as he works to return to the floor.
“It’s really important,” sophomore forward Johnny Williams said. “He’s part of the team. He’s one of us, still. He’s just hurt. Next year, he’s going to be a big part of the team.”
—- Patrick Stevens