- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

The crowd chanted “Lar-ra-na-ga” yesterday afternoon as the George Mason basketball team boarded its bus for the airport.

Guard Folarin Campbell videotaped the departure as several hundred fans lined the back of Patriot Center to send off the Patriots as they left for Indianapolis and the Final Four.

Earlier in the day, the team enjoyed a pep rally in front of thousands inside Johnson Center.

George Mason — one of the most unlikely Final Four participants in the event’s history — will meet Florida in a national semifinal Saturday at the RCA Dome.

“It has brought us all together as a campus,” George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. “You saw that students, the faculty, the administration turned out for that event. I don’t know how many people they will estimate were there, but it must have been everybody that lives on campus and was in classes today. It’s just a thrill.”

The Patriots practiced for an hour and a half, then met a swarm of media and some fans before their historic departure. No. 11 George Mason matched 1986 LSU as the lowest seeded team to reach the sport’s marquee event.

“I keep telling myself, ‘I am going to the Final Four,’ ” center Jai Lewis said. “Sometimes it feels real, sometimes not. I am thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ ”

George Mason will practice in Indianapolis today before getting its first taste of the RCA Dome tomorrow for a shootaround.

“This has been crazy,” guard Tony Skinn said while holding court for local reporters for the final time. “I can just imagine in Indiana. I mean there are four teams left in college basketball out of three hundred-some teams. We have all the press coming from all over the country. I might need a mask or something.”

And while the Patriots are enjoying the unprecedented attention and hoopla of reaching the Final Four, they know there is still basketball to be played.

“This is history,” guard Lamar Butler said. “Every time you mention the NCAA tournament from now on, you have to mention our run. But we’re not finished yet.”

Carter’s homecoming

While many of the Patriots never have been to Indianapolis, Jordan Carter is going back to his hometown. Carter, who hit a critical 3-pointer in the Sweet 16 win over Wichita State, is planning to make his return low-key.

The sophomore guard has been besieged by ticket requests, but he has passed on that responsibility.

“I only have 12 tickets,” Carter said. “My mom is going to take the most important 12. It is up to her.”

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