George Mason's Cam Long stays in for the haul
Don't look now but the nation's longest winning streak in Division I men's basketball belongs to George Mason, which is led by the most precious commodity in all of college hoops: the senior who stayed, the teenager who made a verbal commitment and, four years later, actually meant it.
Well, sort of.
That kid who stayed? Turns out he almost left.
What with a pulsating string of blowouts, 12 straight victories and an almost-certain NCAA tournament berth in store, it's safe to come clean.
"I thought about it," says Cam Long.
Long, the Patriots' do-a-little-of-everything catalyst, was nearly gone in late November 2008, three games into his sophomore year.
Feeling some of the same frustration that made Larry Drew II leave North Carolina this month and Jeremiah Rivers leave Georgetown two seasons ago, Long almost pulled a geographic - the same often-distorted thinking that afflicts so many struggling young players' minds, at big and small colleges alike, after they starred in high school:
Coach don't know what I'm about; I'm going elsewhere.
"I definitely had my, 'I gotta get up outta here' moment," Long said as he sat in the front row of Patriot Center on the school's Fairfax campus before practice Thursday afternoon.
"I actually looked up some schools on the Internet, found some ones that didn't have too many guards. It was only momentary, but in my mind, I was gone. It was right before a game against East Carolina."
Looking back, Nov. 22, 2008, was the fork-in-the-road moment - not just for the career of the most important player Jim Larranaga recruited since that magical Final Four run five years ago but also for the squad that currently stands at 22-5.
"I remember two conversations from back then," Larranaga said. "One was with me, and another was with [assistant coach] Eric Konkol. One of the things Cam said to me was, 'I don't think you have confidence in me.' I think I said, 'Wait a minute. You're in the starting lineup. You're playing 30 minutes a game. There is no better indicator of my confidence in you than that.' We had had a very tough loss the night before and he was upset. After he met with Eric that night, he came out the next game against East Carolina and had a tremendous game. From then on, Cam has been great."