Monday, March 27, 2006

A true Cinderella story

If you are in the same boat as me, and your brackets are finished, there is only one option left: become a George Mason fan.
The term "Cinderella team" is thrown around loosely in the NCAA Tournament. The 10-seed that advances to the Sweet 16 is considered a Cinderella story. Media outlets get desperate to be the first to pick up on the big underdog story of the year.
Invariably, however, Duke or North Carolina or some other powerhouse comes along, takes Cinderella's glass slipper off and crushes it with their bare hands.
But not this time. George Mason's clock has been wedged in suspended animation at 11:59 for about two weeks. Four upsets and counting.
And at this point, how can you not root for them unless you are a Florida fan?
George Mason is a D.C.-area suburban commuter school in Fairfax, Va. with an enrollment of just under 30,000. You may have never heard of it prior to sitting up and taking notice when the Patriots knocked off North Carolina in the second round.
For those of you who need to break the ice, here is a brief history of the college and the man it was named for.
George Mason was a founding father of America who drafted the Virginia Commonwealth document that became the basis for the Bill of Rights. The college originated as a branch of the University of Virginia in 1957 and became its own entity in 1972.
Needless to say, the school does not have the tradition of, say, Georgetown. It's closer to being an upper-crust version of Cleveland State.
But that's all about to change with the Patriot basketball team two wins away from the most improbable title run since Texas Western upended Kentucky in 1966.
George Mason is coached by Jim Larranaga, a former Bowling Green coach who is known more for the piercing whistle he uses to get the attention of his players than for anything his teams actually accomplished.
Even this year, placing George Mason in the tournament was a stretch in the eyes of some. They did not win the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament. They lost to Hofstra twice. They were a bubble team that squeaked in.
But if the American dream is being given a chance to prove yourself, George Mason is doing their patriotic namesake proud.
Sunday, after a UConn three-pointer clanged off the rim to end overtime, sending the Patriots to the Final Four, fans took delight in sticking it to CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer, who chided the NCAA selection committee for giving George Mason a berth.
George Mason fans chanted Packer's name in the decidedly biased MCI Center in downtown D.C.
It was a perfect ending. Hometown, home crowd, scissors, ladders and basketball nets in pieces.
Now the George Mason show heads to Indianapolis. Ending? Heck, this might only be the beginning.

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