- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

New, improved and prepared to make a move.

Tired of being perceived as nothing more than a minor conference, the Colonial Athletic Association shed its little-sisters-of-the-poor image and welcomed four new members.

Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra and Towson bring an immediate upgrade to the CAA in terms of media exposure, Ratings Percentage Index, recruiting and hopefully NCAA tournament seeding.

By adding the four former America East schools, the "new" CAA is now in three of the top 25 media markets in the country and can no longer be classified as merely a Virginia conference. Armed with a television package that will broadcast 36 games on seven different networks in a combined market of 14,040,000 households, the CAA appears ready to challenge the overhyped Atlantic 10 as the second major power broker in the mid-Atlantic behind the Big East conference.

"We've go to go out and play the games, and the strides that we've made will begin to start translating into recruiting benefits where people are going to come in and see the kind of arenas we are playing in, the kind of coaches that we've got, and the kind of excitement that is following the programs," commissioner Tom Yeager said.

The George Mason Patriots hope to benefit from any newfound CAA clout: The Patriots received a only a 14 seed from the NCAA selection committee last season and a date with eventual Final Four participant Maryland. The Patriots pushed the Terps to the wire before losing an 83-80 heartbreaker.

Mason should be in the thick of the CAA race again this season even without the graduated George Evans, arguably the best player in school history. In his place steps Jesse Young, a 6-foot-10 junior who was Evans' apprentice in practice the past two years.

Young took the physical punishment Evans doled out. He studied how the undersized Evans, a three-time CAA player of the year, was able to score inside.

"For two years being able to play against him and pick up some little tricks and stuff like that is obviously a bonus," Young said.

Young is the Patriots' top returning scorer and rebounder he averaged 8.2 points and 5.9 boards in a reserve role last season and has a repertoire that includes short pull-up jumpers, power moves to the basket and soft fadeaway jumpers from the baseline.

Young is not alone on the front line. The Patriots are loaded up front with 6-7 junior forward Jon Larranaga, 6-5 senior wingman Rob Anderson (Wakefield H.S.), 6-6 senior forward Terrance Nixon (Oxon Hill H.S.) and 6-9 sophomore center Deon Cooper.

"You have the most experienced guys there," coach Jim Larranaga said. "Those four guys are kind of our veteran unit, and they'll play a lot together."

The question marks are in the backcourt. Point guard Tremaine Price and shooter Erik Herring are gone from last season's 18-12 NCAA team. Larranaga said the Patriots offense will operate with "a point guard by committee."

Raoul Heinen, a 6-5 sophomore from the Netherlands, and freshman Lamar Butler (Oxon Hill H.S.) will split time at point. Heinen is a sound ballhandler but needs to work on his outside shot. Butler is a better shooter but is just 17 and in need of on-the-job training.

"All year long we're going to be rotating Lamar and Raoul there," Larranaga said.

JUCO transfer Darren Tarver, who was the national junior college player of the year at Wabash Valley (Ill.) Community College, takes over at the off-guard spot.

"As the year goes on and [our guards] get more and more comfortable with each other in what we do defensively, they are going to be much, much better," Larranaga said.

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