- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

It was never more painful for Lamar Butler to watch his George Mason teammates from the bench last season than in their loss to Delaware in the opening round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

Butler had sat through 27 games with a combination hip flexor and groin tear suffered in summer workouts. Then he saw the Patriots shoot 12.5 percent from 3-point range against the Blue Hens’ collapsing zone defense.

“They were sitting in that zone just daring us to shoot, and I love that,” Butler said. “It was painful because that’s a situation where I know I can help the team.”

In his first season with the Patriots, Butler was named to the CAA All-Rookie team and led the team in 3-point shooting at 38 percent. Without him last season, George Mason lacked a consistent outside threat and relied on senior forwards Jon Larranaga and Jesse Young to score inside. The duo was helpless against Delaware as the Patriots finished 16-12, their worst record since 1997-98.

Young and Larranaga are gone, but after a redshirt season Butler returns to the lineup as the Patriots try to get back to the NCAA tournament for the third time in six years. Joining him are leading scorer Mark Davis (15.5 points) and versatile guard/forward Raoul Heinen (11 points, 3.4 assists).

Coach Jim Larranaga enters his seventh year at Mason, but for the first time since 1998 won’t have his son, Jon, on the roster. Larranaga finished his career as one of three players in school history to top 800 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 steals.

Senior Deon Cooper will seek to help replace Young and Larranaga inside, but in three years he hasn’t started a game. He averaged 4.1 minutes last season while sitting out half the year with a stress fracture in his left foot. Underclassmen Trent Wurtz and Kevin Mickens also will see minutes in the post, but Larranaga won’t hesitate to go with a four-guard lineup.

The fourth man in that set, along with Butler, Davis and Heinen, will be junior transfer Terry Reynolds. The 5-foot-9 guard was the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year at Toledo and was an honorable mention on the all-conference team as a sophomore.

“We have seven returning players and seven newcomers, and what that’s done is provide us a lot of competition in practice,” Larranaga said. “You don’t necessarily notice the two guys who graduated so much as you notice the influx of new talent.”

George Mason was picked to finish atop the conference in the preseason poll with Virginia Commonwealth and two-time champion UNC Wilmington right behind.

Only three players remain from George Mason’s 2000-‘01 team that nearly beat Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Heinen is one of them, and he is eager to get another shot at March Madness.

“My first year, after we went to the NCAAs and played Maryland, I had a great summer,” he said. “The last two years have ended without reaching the tournament, and I’ve had horrible summers. I’d like to go out with one more excellent summer.”

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