- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Teammates have an unusual nickname for George Mason guard Folarin Campbell: Shaq.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore certainly came up big in last night’s regional semifinal against Wichita State.

Campbell made three early 3-pointers as the 11th-seeded Patriots rolled to a 63-55 victory at Verizon Center to secure an Elite Eight berth for the first time in school history. As opponents have keyed on George Mason’s more notable players — Lamar Butler, Jai Lewis and Tony Skinn — Campbell has emerged as the Patriots’ breakout star in the postseason.

Campbell finished with a game-high 16 points for George Mason (26-7), which will play for a trip to the Final Four tomorrow.

“All the focus is mainly on Lamar, Jai, Tony and Will [Thomas], so I just try to make sure I make all of my open shots,” Campbell said. “That’s what I’ve been doing.”

The Springbrook High School product recalled last night he actually played center when he first picked up the game, earning him a nickname that has stuck for more than a decade. The moniker cracks up his George Mason teammates, but Campbell entered last night averaging 10.7 points and 4.4 rebounds.

Yet he struggled in the final two weeks of the season, failing to reach double figures in George Mason’s final four games before the tournament. The struggles were especially apparent in the Patriots’ Colonial Athletic Association semifinal loss to Hofstra, in which Campbell went 1-for-7 from the floor.

With that outing in mind, Campbell spent extra time in the gym working on his shot, and the results were immediate. He made all eight of his field goal attempts and matched a season high with 21 points in the first round against Michigan State, then added 15 in the second-round upset of North Carolina.

“Shaq wants to win, and he’s a winner,” Skinn said. “It’s one of those things where he sees how good this team can be, and if he steps his game up, it’s going to make us better.”

Then came last night, when Campbell helped the Patriots quickly distance themselves from the Shockers. Campbell buried 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to push George Mason’s lead to 9-0, then added another with 15:43 left in the first half to make it 14-3.

“Everybody has to pick their game up,” Campbell said. “I felt it was on myself to come out and take some shots. It’s been paying off, and we’ve seen it paying off in games.”

Campbell can be overlooked on such a veteran team, though those days might soon be gone. For now, Campbell simply has the same concern as the rest of the Patriots: Keeping one of the most memorable NCAA runs in a while alive for another weekend.

“He knows next year his turn is going to come,” Butler said. “He’s just stepping up for us. We need him to.”

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