If you think this whole feel-good thing out in Fairfax is too good to be true, let me tell you something: it's not. I just sat in Jim Larranaga's office for like an hour while we discussed college basketball scheduling, state capitals, grandchildren and geography bees. Before that, Larranaga and assistant Chris Caputo attempted to best each other in "A Few Good Men" quotes.
Scheduling is, and has always been, very dear to Larranaga's heart. He told me he was going to clean his desk while we talked, but he ended up just talking and not cleaning. Then he got onto the geography thing, and we were rolling.
See, he gives neighborhood kids a ride to his summer basketball camp, piling four or five kids into his truck for the trip to the Pat Dome. To keep them under control (ages 8 through 10), he delievers "Coach L's Geography Bee" on the way, asking for state capitals, for the names of four states that begin with the letter A, etc.
So the GMU geography department got wind of this and asked if he'd be interested in helping them out, since geography seems to have fallen out of favor with high school kids and high school teachers. Larranaga, of course, said yes. He told them he'd like to design a basketball with the image of the globe, so that kids could learn geography while hooping. He started showing me images of prototypes on his computer; they've gone through like 10 different prototypes in an effort to get things right.
"See the ball, isn't that cool," he said, excitedly. "You can have kids all over the world wanting to get one of these basketballs."
Somehow this ball stuff then led to a series of conversations with National Geographic ("the premiere magazine in the world about geography," he said). And now, in addition to the ball, there are talks of a Coach L Geography Bee for children that will go on the Nat Geo Web site. He'd like it to become like those bar trivia games, where you compete against other folks virtually, and he wants the kid with the best score every month to get a free trip to Fairfax for a Mason basketball game. So, in preparation, Larranaga has been researching geographic quiz Web sites.
So now the Coach and I started playing a geography quiz in which you have to drag images of the 50 states to their proper position on a map. (Play the game here.)
("You should get back to work," I said. "This is work," he said.)
He went first, handling Washington. I got Connecticut, which I nailed, and Kentucky, which I missed by 76 miles. He took over, getting South Dakota, Colorado, Alabama, Arizona, all without a single error. "How about Queens, I know where that is," asst. coach Chris Caputo said.
Then we started doing a state capital quiz. He was grilling me. I got New York, Pennsylvania and California right, but I sort of stumbled on Arizona. "Isn't this great?" Larranaga asked while we played. "Instant feedback."
He's also designing floor mats of the seven continents for use in "around the world" shooting drills. He has these visions of "around the world" competitions at halftime of Mason games, in which the different continents would be worth different amounts of points. He drew me a diagram. ("This is Australia; 'Oceania,' they call it now," he said.) But he's very concerned about geographic accuracy; he was upset, for example, that the "North America" image has the words entirely within the U.S., making it look like Canada and Mexico are somehow distinct. "This needs a correction," he said.
Then GMU marketing guru Andy Ruge entered with copies of the Mason Final Four season recap DVD, which is just out. "Hey, my picture's on it!!!" Larranaga said.
We started watching it.
"I've seen this thing 50 times and I still get chills from the damn thing," Ruge said.
After about 20 or 30 minutes I tried telling Coach L I was leaving to start blogging, but he was engrossed and didn't hear me. His desk still hadn't been cleaned.