George Mason alums looking to channel '06 magic, make another deep tourney run

 

By: Eddie Moran | @thetournament


Can these Patriot greats once again capture America's heart?  

When you think of the best underdog stories in NCAA Tournament history, what comes to mind? Steph Curry and the 2008 Davidson Wildcats? Gordon Hayward and the 2011 Butler Bulldogs? VCU? Loyola Chicago? While those teams have all earned a special place in basketball lore, they have one thing in common: they followed in the footsteps of the 2006 George Mason Patriots.

Despite losing in the CAA semifinals, the Patriots were gifted an at-large bid into the DC Regional (a rare occurrence for a team from the Colonial). You know how the story goes from there. The 11-seed went on to defeat Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and top-seeded Connecticut to become the first mid-major team since 1979 to appear in the Final Four.   

Just over 13-years later, the Patriots are looking to shock the world once again.  Led by head coach Lamar Butler, guard Folarin Campbell, and forward Will Thomas – all of whom played on that ’06 Mason team -  a group of Patriots greats are looking to rep the green and gold one more time in this summer’s Richmond Regional. 

We caught up with Butler to reminisce about that ’06 run, talk about the transition to coaching, and what it will take for The Green Machine to win TBT 2019

TBT: The Green Machine is looking to play in TBT for the first time. What’s the excitement level right now? 

Butler: I’m definitely excited! I watch (TBT) pretty much every year because I know some of the guys that play. We'll put our team together and take our shot at winning the tournament.

TBT: How did the team come together?

Butler: Mike Morrison (Class of 2012) actually contacted me and said he wanted to do a team. He wanted me to coach and I was like ‘cool’.

TBT: What made you decide to coach instead of also appearing as a player?

Butler: I haven't played professionally since 2012, so it was kind of a no-brainer to coach.

TBT: How has George Mason reacted to everyone coming back together?

Butler: I really haven't talked to anyone about it, to be honest. Maybe those guys have, but I'm pretty sure that they'll be excited. It's kind of a ‘where are they now’ type thing, where you can see those guys post-George Mason when they were a part of one of the most successful eras in program history.

TBT: You are currently coaching high school ball in Virginia. How do you think that's going to help you prepare for coaching professionals in such a competitive, high-quality tournament like TBT?

Butler: It's still basketball. Nothing's changed. The hoops are still 10 feet high. The (basketball court) is 94 feet. You're still trying to win the game. Nothing really is different. Maybe the stakes are a little higher because it's for money instead of a trophy. So, you just kind of look at what the other team is doing schematically and just make a counter. Whatever you have to do to win the game. I don't think anything really has changed other than just seeing what the team is doing, making new adjustments, and going out there and executing.

TBT: Are there any areas that you think the team should prepare for given it's your first time in the tournament? 

Butler: No. To be honest, every team plays differently, so you really won't know until you get to the tournament. Like I said, you just go in these games and you got yourself different challenges. But, you really won't know that until you get to the tournament and see your opponent.

TBT: It’s been 13 years since that ’06 Mason team accomplished the impossible. What does it mean to you and your teammates all these years later?

Butler: We cemented ourselves in history as far as George Mason basketball. Now you see all these amazing teams making runs - we were kind of the first team to actually do it and just show others that it's possible. Even though we came up short, every time March comes around, the saying is: "Who will be this year's George Mason?" Just knowing that I had a part in that, it's awesome. You get to relive that moment every single March.

TBT: Since the moment you guys announced that you’d be playing in TBT, a lot of people have obviously brought up that ’06 run. Are there a lot of similarities between preparing for TBT and the NCAA Tournament? 

Butler: Oh yeah. I would say it's similar because, in a tournament, you really only have a day or two to prepare for your opponent. You really don't know who you're playing until they play. So, it's the same setup, to be honest. It's win or go home. The energy level is high. The intensity level is high. The focus level is high. The only difference is you're just playing for money instead of a trophy or a ring.

TBT: Are there any advantages you guys have coming in with your reputation?

Butler: I wouldn't necessarily say advantage, but some of the guys like Mike Morrison (The Stickmen, Louisiana United) and Bryon Allen (Louisiana United) have played before so they have experience as far as what it takes to win. I'm definitely going to pick those guys' brains because I've never been a part of the TBT. Bryon and Mike have experience. The rest of our team has been playing pro basketball. High-level guys. High-IQ guys. Again, just picking those guys' brains so I know what to expect going in and you have to go from there, step by step.