CLEVELAND – George Mason coach Jim Larranaga is happy to reminisce about the 2006 Patriots team that made a miracle run to the Final Four, though more stodgy coaches might avoid such talk at any cost.
Larranaga's view: Why should he be annoyed to remember good times?
His players, on the other hand, are starting to squirm when asked about the Final Four run, even as George Mason earned its first tournament win since 2006 with a 61-57 win over ninth-seeded Villanova on Friday.
No current player was part of the Final Four team. Heck, first-game hero Luke Hancock wasn't even part of the last George Mason team to play a tournament game; that was a 2008 first-round loss to Notre Dame. As soon as the players were asked about 2006 on Friday night, forward Mike Morrison held up a yellow T-shirt with green lettering on the back: "We are this year's George Mason."
"We're trying to live by it," Morrison said. "We're trying to be our own team."
Barbara O'Connor, the wife of athletic director Thomas O'Connor, came up with the idea for a T-shirt before Selection Sunday as the Patriots started hearing more and more about the 2006 team. By Monday, a stack of about 30 T-shirts showed up in the George Mason locker room.
Larranaga doesn't sweat the comparisons since they come with the territory.
"This is what I told them. I said, 'You guys love to make comparisons, right?' " Larranaga said. " 'You're always asking and talking to each other and debating who is better, Kobe or LeBron. And then you ask me. And I say, "Hey, they're both great in their own way." And that's really the way you guys should feel about our team as compared to the '06 team.' "
Comparisons may be fun, but this version of George Mason would like to stand on its own.
"We'd like to be people talking about us instead of the '06 team," Hancock said.
If George Mason knocks off Ohio State on Sunday, that could be the case.
- Jim Larranaga