- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

There were spontaneous chants of “Lar-ahn-a-guh” throughout the night as roughly 6,000 George Mason fans filled Patriot Center for the “Big Dance” Party.

George Mason coach Jim Larranaga drew the longest ovation when he was introduced during the nationally televised event. The Patriots and their fans relived their phenomenal run to the Final Four one more time while celebrating Mason Madness.

Maryland, Georgetown and George Mason each staged its own version of Midnight Madness to mark the first day of college basketball practice. However, it was hard to imagine anyone enjoying the moment more than those in Patriot Center.

“This is not about basketball,” said Larranaga, who begins his 10th season in Fairfax. “It is about a celebration of school spirit. And George Mason has come so far in such a short time.”

The Patriots, who last season won their first NCAA tournament game and wound up advancing all the way to the national semifinals, ushered the preseason in with a performance from the band, cheerleaders and group of acrobats. Earlier, they held their first practice in an empty arena.

“It’s seems like we were just in Indianapolis,” senior guard Gabe Norwood said, referring to site of last season’s Final Four. “It’s definitely a celebration just to have everybody back in the arena.”

Enthusiasm abounds within the program even though the team lost seniors Lamar Butler, Jai Lewis and Tony Skinn. The Patriots return starters Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas. Standout guard John Vaughan is back after missing last season with injuries, and junior college All-American guard Dre Smith leads a group of heralded recruits.

Title defense and new start

In College Park, a large crowd welcomed the Terrapins’ national champion women’s team in its first appearance at Comcast Center since defeating Duke in the NCAA tournament title game in April.

“It’s huge to be able to use this buzz that’s been created, and to be able to have the fans come out and support this team and this program gives us another great homecourt advantage,” said coach Brenda Frese, who clutched the national championship trophy as she entered. “We hope a lot of fans will come out and support this team.”

It also marked a new beginning for the men’s team, which has missed the NCAA tournament the last two years. Four freshmen have joined the Terps, and the infusion of youth already appears to have rejuvenated a team that at times seemed disinterested last year.

The Terps came onto the floor wearing black jackets, black hats and sunglasses and produced a dance performance to the delight of the crowd. Later, the Terps bounded out of the stands as they were introduced individually for an intrasquad scrimmage, the first step toward a season opener against Hampton less than four weeks away.

“It’s great. You just feel the juices flowing and you get fired up,” said coach Gary Williams, who made a David Copperfield-like entrance at midcourt. “You really start thinking about what you want to do every day in practice. It’s always important every year, but this year especially with playing Nov. 7 and a chance to play the following week up in New York, you want to get there.”

Hoyas mark 100th year

One hundred years of Georgetown basketball officially tipped off last night with a party on the Hilltop.

“Everybody is extremely excited. It’s unlike anything ever before during my time here,” said junior finance major Ray Borgone, who is from Old Bridge, N.J. “The season tickets sold out unbelievably fast, and nobody was ready for it.”

Most preseason basketball magazines have the Hoyas ranked in the top 10 after last season’s Sweet 16 run and with a dominant frontline returning, anchored by 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert and 6-9 forward Jeff Green.

The party began last night in the parking lot of Georgetown’s historic McDonough Arena.

There was an inflatable rock climbing wall for the adventurous. Two inflatable hot-shot basketball structures tested everyone’s shooting stroke. Free one-pound hamburgers were provided by the Georgetown University Grilling Society (GUGS). Video basketball games on two large screen TVs and music provided by a Washington radio station kept the parking lot jumping.

The first 1,000 fans were presented with free T-shirts that honored Georgetown’s storied 100-year basketball tradition. Once inside, the standing-room only crowd was entertained by various contests, dance team performances and lots of loud music. Two pillars of Georgetown’s past — former coach John Thompson and former All-American center Patrick Ewing — were also in attendance. At 11:45 p.m., Georgetown’s basketball team was introduced to thunderous applause.

Both Hibbert (11.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Green (11.9 ppg, 3.27 apg) earned All-Big East second team honors last season. Third-year coach John Thompson III may have one of the best frontlines in the country. Incoming 6-9 freshman forward Vernon Macklin is a consensus McDonald’s and Parade All-American and led Hargrave Military Academy to a 28-2 record last season.

Other new post players include 6-10 junior Patrick Ewing Jr., whose father helped Georgetown win a national championship in 1984. DaJuan Summers, a 6-8 forward, scored 1,502 points during his career at Baltimore’s McDonough High.

“I don’t think there’s many teams with as much depth, especially up front, in the whole country as they have,” senior philosophy major Keith Elcher said. “They have 7-2, 6-9, 6-9, 6-9, and 6-9. They’re athletic and they’re long.”

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