George Mason University enters the final quarter of its basketball season this week fighting the three Ds: disappointment, dissension and defeat.
The Fairfax school has won seven games and lost 10 so far this year. That would be a disappointing record any year, but it is all the more so for the Patriots, who recruited two of the country's top high school players last spring.
Meanwhile, defeat has led to dissension. Two others have been suspended and Coach John Linn is under for an alleged lack of discipline.
Mason's troubles began when senior Steven Bacon and junior Brain Sumser recently quit the team, citing a lack of playing time as their primary reasons.
Then Linn suspended senoirs Steve Neal and Kenny Kellstrom for missing two games and a number of pratices. Neal said snow prevented them from driving the 2 1/2 miles from their homes to Mason for the games and pratices.
Bacon averaged 12.5 points a game last year, and according to Linn, "had seen more playing time than any of the guards" when he quit.
Bacon took a different view. "My playing time had been decreasing every game without any explanation from the coaching staff," he said. "I felt Caoch Linn should have come to me with an explanation."
The soft-spoken Linn is in his eighth year as Mason caoch. He has been criticized by his players for being "too nice" and for making questionable personnel dicisions.
"There is no discipline in pratice or in games because Coach Linn is just too nice," said Bacon. "Certain players would walk off the court for 10 or 15 minutes. When they'd come back he'd tell them to run, say, 22 laps. They'd run six or seven and stop and he wouldn't do anything."
Andre Gaddy, a 6-foot-10 freshman starting center from Brooklyn, N.Y., who admits he is considering transferring after this season, said, "He (Linn) is not really helping me that much. I need to work on my shooting, but he doesn't know what to tell me.
"There's not enough discipline. You can tell by language players use and by what they do. If they feel like going out and getting water during practice, they just to out and get it," he said.
Gaddy is one of Mason's top freshman recruits. The other is his high school teammate fron Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, Riley Clarida, who was nameds to the All-New York City team a year ago.
With freshman David Skaff, and Keith Lewis and Myron Contee back after sitting out a year, Mason shaped up as a young, but unusually talented, team. But it hasn't worked out that way, and some say the reason is that the youngsters have taken away much of the veteran's playing time.
Neal, a 6-foot-8 center who was the team's leading rebounder last year, admits he has been unhappy about warning the bench behind Gaddy this year.
"Coach Linn is trying to make an example of me now fot the freshmen, and if that will help him, that's okay with me," said Neal, who has played for Linn since his freshman year.
"After I was suspended I was mad," but then I realized playing out my senoir year was more important to me than I thought. So I went to him and told him I was wrong. I told him he didn't even have to play me, I'd just be there if he needs me.
"It was kind of a cold atmosphere, but I felt better. He told he'd call, but I don't think he'll take me back."
While Neal agreed that Linn is not a disciplinarian. "With the type of players we have, we need a coach who is tough to the bone," Neal said. He added that the team's problems go beyond discipline.
"A lot of players have lost respect for him as a coach because people have been telling us how good we are, but our record doesn't show it," Neal said. "They look for a scapegoat and they say it's the coaches' fault. The players agree because that lets them say, 'It's not me.'
"Before I left (after being suspended) I told the players, 'YOu can blame it on Coach Linn if you want, but you could win 15 to 20 games on your own if you really wanted to played," he said.
Linn, whose carrer won-lost percentage at Mason is around 500, admits to feeling the pressure this year. He said he chose to use young players because "they'll be around longer." Their inexprience and a tendency "to try too hard" helped them lose several close games, Linn said.
In response to the charge that he is not a disciplinarian, Linn said, I guess I believe in staying with a kid too long rather than not long enough. I still think not everything a kid gets out of basketball is measured in the won-lost column."
Neal is a prime example of how Linn's patience paid off in a non-basketball sense.
"The only reason I made it through school is because of him," Neal said. "He tols me if I ever needed anything to see him, and I did. He can stand in my corner anytime."
Linn said he had felt pressure this year from "a member of the Patroit Education Foundation (a school fundraising organization) who came up to me and said he wanted me out of here now. BUt when you've been with a program and struggled from zero to get where you are, no, I'm definitely not quitting."
Linn said that he "offers no excuses - either you win or lose." But he added that "there has to be a stronger commitment from the scholl for the program to really be successful."
Mason's athelic director, Hap Spuhler, who hired Linn, said, John is our coach. He will be for the rest of this year and he will be next year, too.