- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

Had a weird dream the other night. George Mason was a game away from the Final Four — and had the home-court advantage to boot.

Must have been the Ambien.

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You couldn’t ask for a longer shot in the Elite Eight than the Patriots. Most of the country thinks George Mason is Anthony Mason’s younger brother.

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And let’s not overlook the fact that by the time they throw up the ball today at Verizon Center, Mason will be in the Sensational Six.

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Here’s what’s really scary: I’m old enough to remember when GMU coach Jim Larranaga was playing for Providence in the 1971 NIT. (The Friars beat Louisville in the first round, but lost to eventual champ North Carolina in the quarterfinals.) The point guard on Larranaga’s college team? None other than Ernie DiGregorio, the third player picked in the ‘73 NBA Draft.

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You see, Larranaga played in an era when only 25 teams got invited to the NCAAs. His ‘71 Providence team would have been a lock to make the tournament today — about an eight-seed, I’m guessing.

• • •

Other notables in that ‘71 NIT (besides UNC and Louisville): Duke, Syracuse, Oklahoma and UMass (featuring Julius Erving).

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Speaking of the NCAAs, I can hardly wait to ask new Redskin Antwaan Randle El about the two points he scored against George Washington in the ‘99 tournament. Bob Knight emptied the Indiana bench that night with the Hoosiers en route to a 108-88 victory; Randle El played two minutes — unforgettable ones, I’m sure — hitting one of two shots and recording an assist.

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Wonder if the assist came on an end-around pass.

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Bob Huggins at Kansas State, Knight at Texas Tech … the Big 12 has become a halfway house for down-on-their-luck college hoops legends. Anybody got a number for Jim Harrick?

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In other college news, a 98-year-old woman has finally received her varsity letter from West Virginia, 77 years after she competed in basketball, baseball, track and field hockey. By the way, there’s no truth to the rumor GW was actively recruiting her until it discovered she was out of eligibility.

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Sorry to hear Booz Allen is dropping its sponsorship of Washington’s PGA Tour stop. I won’t miss the Allen, but I’ll miss the Booz.

• • •

Did you see minor league umpires plan to strike when the season starts next month? Sounds like their union really means business. Not only is it threatening to stop supplying the majors with fill-in umpires during the strike, it’s also instructing its members to refrain from humoring team mascots. So, until the labor situation is resolved, folks, no ump will be bending over to brush off home plate.

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According to the union, salaries for umpires average $15,000 in Class AAA, $12,000 in Class AA, $10,000 in full-season A-ball and $5,500 in rookie leagues. Rookie league umps only make $5,500 a year? Heck, that’s barely enough to keep a guy in doughnut burgers.

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Minor league clubs have a Plan B if there’s a work stoppage, I’m told. They’re going to have fans vote on balls and strikes.

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Elsewhere in baseball, Barry Bonds plans to sue the authors and publishers of a book that claims he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Can you believe this guy? He’s gotten so many intentional walks over the years that he thinks he should get a free pass on everything.

• • •

A judge has already rebuffed Barry’s attempt to freeze the profits from “Game of Shadows.” His lawyers argued that, since the book was based on illegally obtained grand jury transcripts, the proceeds should go to charities serving low-income youths. Makes sense to me. After all, the Giants slugger donates all of his salary to the National Association for the Advancement of Barry Bonds.

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Turning to the NFL, the Seahawks have signed Vikings receiver Nate Burleson to a seven-year, $49million offer sheet — and Minnesota probably won’t match it. Sources say Zygi Wilf, the Vikes’ image-conscious new owner, is worried that “Burleson” sounds too much like “burlesque.”

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Keyshawn Johnson, meanwhile, negotiated his free agent deal with the Panthers himself because his usual representative, Jerome Stanley, is serving a one-year suspension imposed by the NFL Players Association. Johnson reportedly resisted a last-minute recruiting effort by Bob Sugar (the snake in “Jerry McGuire”).

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“I didn’t come here to catch 100 balls,” Keyshawn said. “I came here to pout when I don’t catch 100 balls.”

Actually, I made that second part up.

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News item: The brother of Steelers safety Tyrone Carter had his sentence for driving with a revoked license increased from six months to five years because he went to the Super Bowl instead of reporting to prison.

Comment: How great a commercial would this be? Tank Carter smiling into a camera and saying, “Yeah, I might have added 4 years to my prison sentence, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express that weekend.”

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Congratulations to old friend Bryan Murray for coaching yet another NHL team to a 100-point regular season. Murray did it three times with the Caps (1983-86), once with Detroit (‘97-98) and now a fifth time with Ottawa. Would it be too much to ask for the Senators to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, an accomplishment that has somehow eluded Bryan, one of the sport’s good guys?

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A rap name waiting to happen:

“The Artest Formerly Known As Ron.”

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And finally …

Shawn Kemp has gotten himself in shape at age 36 and says he’s ready to return to the NBA after a three-year absence. Several clubs are expected to work him out — not because they need a power forward but because Kemp has fathered so many children that he can guarantee a sellout.

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