- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS — George Mason got an unexpected scouting tip on Florida this week when Folarin Campbell had a conversation with Georgetown’s Jeff Green.

The Patriots meet Florida, who eliminated the Hoyas’ 57-53 last week in a Sweet 16 game in Minneapolis, tonight in the Final Four.

Campbell and Green are friends from the Washington area. Campbell went to Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, while Green attended Northwestern in Hyattsville.

“He wished me good luck,” George Mason’s sophomore guard said. “He told me about Florida’s personnel. He gave me a little insight on what they like to do. He basically told me about Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer. I feel like I got a little something, something to help me defend them.”

Green and Campbell met in the Maryland Class 4A state championship game two years ago at Comcast Center, with Green’s Northwestern team winning. They were almost teammates at Georgetown.

Georgetown was recruiting Campbell and scheduled a campus visit. Shortly before the trip, then-Hoyas coach Craig Esherick, another Springbrook graduate, told him not to come because he had given someone else the scholarship.

“I would have gone there,” Campbell said. “They got another guard, and I felt down on myself, but I was happy to go to George Mason. I wished them luck in the tournament. But we are still playing, and they are not.”

The dome effect

The Patriots will play their first game in a dome and spent their 50-minute practice inside RCA Dome getting used to the football stadium.

“I think I shot an airball my first shot,” George Mason guard Lamar Butler said. “I have never even been inside a dome. I’ve played football in a basketball gym but never basketball inside of a football arena.”

Will Thomas said it felt like he was playing outside at first but doesn’t expect it to be a factor tonight.

“It’s a big arena,” Thomas said. “They cut half of it out, and it’s still huge. I’m happy to be out and seeing the Final Four on the floor. I am really taking it in. We are here.”

Final Four and a little one

Mason coach Jim Larranaga will coach his first game in the Final Four tonight but will hold his grandson and namesake for the first time in the afternoon.

James Joseph Larranaga III, who was born Feb. 9 and lives with his parents in Naples, Italy, is coming to Indianapolis. Jim’s son Jay plays professional basketball overseas. He played a game last night and is expected to be in Indiana this afternoon along with his wife, daughter Tia and the baby.

Cherry’s second shot

George Mason assistant Scott Cherry is no stranger to the Final Four.

Cherry was a member of North Carolina’s 1993 national championship team and played briefly in the Tar Heels’ championship win over Michigan at the Superdome in New Orleans.

In the past week, he has heard from former coaches and teammates and is enjoying his second Final Four trip.

“It is difficult to get to this point,” said Cherry, who has spent six of the last seven seasons as Larranaga assistant. “I don’t know if most people know how difficult it is to win four games and certainly to win six games to win a national championship.

“I’m savoring it for these guys,” Cherry said, referring to George Mason’s players. “I’ve been through it, and I’ve had a chance to enjoy it. They haven’t, and now, this is an experience that nobody can take away.”

Good eats

Sophomore guard Jordan Carter knew exactly where he wanted to take his George Mason teammates to eat when they came to his hometown for the Final Four: Steak & Shake.

Carter and the Patriots had to settle for something a little bit more upscale: St. Elmo’s Fire, a steakhouse that is arguably Indianapolis’ most famous restaurant.

“Dang,” Carter said. “I might not get a chance to get to Steak & Shake this time.”

George Mason was to continue its tradition of eating at Outback Steakhouse last night. But it’s not a favorite for everyone on the team.

“We’ve been going every week,” sophomore guard Folarin Campbell said. “Coach L is superstitious. But it’s fine. It’s free food for us. Being a college student, I’m going to eat whatever Coach L tells me to eat.”

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