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Cam Long fights cramps, fuels George Mason basketball

Junior guard Cam Long, long dogged by debilitating cramps, changed his diet and sleep patterns to turn his season around.
Junior guard Cam Long, long dogged by debilitating cramps, changed his diet and sleep patterns to turn his season around. (Richard A. Lipski/the Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

George Mason men's basketball player Cam Long had tried almost everything to combat muscle cramps, debilitating spasms that had led to blood tests, genetic evaluation, a visit to an endocrinologist, needles inserted into his leg to measure nerve condition, relaxation techniques, heat pads under his shorts and use of a stationary bike behind the bench.

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His concerned mother suggested drinking vinegar water, which tasted so foul he would stir it in Gatorade. "It was still bad," he said, wincing.

The contractions would develop in his stomach and hamstrings, calves and back. When afflicted during a game, he would make eye contact with Coach Jim Larranaga. Nothing needed to be said, and he would gingerly walk off the court.

Last year, after a scrimmage at Georgetown, he experienced a frightening full-body cramp. "All I could do," he said, "was lie down and yell."

Doctors and specialists could not find any serious underlying issues. The solution, they concluded, was better nutrition, improved sleeping habits and an emphasis on conditioning.

But part of the cure was also found in a little plastic cup available in the refrigerated aisle of any grocery store: Jell-O.

These days, the wiggly product is stacked in the Patriots' locker room -- strawberry and orange flavors, mostly -- and is made available for meals during road trips.

It is Long's snack of necessity, recommended by a sports nutritionist. "It's a great mix of protein and carbs," George Mason athletic trainer Debi Corbatto said. "We tried everything else, why not that, too?"

Long, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, has been mostly cramp-free since early December. Combined with a recent position change, he is enjoying the finest stretch of his college career in leading a young Patriots team (13-7, 8-1) into a three-way tie for first place at the midpoint of the Colonial Athletic Association schedule.

In the past three games, all road victories, he averaged 24 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 22 of 31 from the field and 11 of 17 on three-pointers. On Wednesday night against Delaware (6-14, 2-7) at Patriot Center, he will attempt to become the first George Mason player since George Evans in November 1998 to score 20 points in four consecutive games.

Muscle cramps, caused by fluid or electrolyte deficiency, are common in athletes and usually remedied by increased hydration. However, "in Cam's case," Corbatto said, "the extra fluids just made him go to the bathroom more."

Long had to leave each of the first several games this season with cramps, resulting in less than 30 minutes of playing time and subpar production.

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