When a George Mason University basketball game begins, the cheer from Patriot fans is always the same: "Gaddy! Gaddy! Gaddy!"
They shout for Andre Gaddy, who for five years has held the hopes of GMU basketball in his large hands.
Soon the season will end, and so will Gaddy's college career. In 1977, the 6-foot-10 native of Brooklyn, N.Y., made a pact with the Fairfax university: If he would help put GMU on the college basketball map, the university would pay for his education and give him a chance to earn basketball fame.
Gaddy says that, despite a slow start, he's held up his end of the bargain. "Well, I thought the things that are happening now would have happened a little earlier," he said thoughtfully. "But the school's promise to me has come true--it George Mason was in Division II mid-sized college when I came here, and now it's competing in Division I major college .
"I guess it's worked out well for the school and me," Gaddy said. "I'll get my degree, and the basketball program has made money. . . . Given the same circumstances, I'd do it again."
Gaddy was George Mason's first major basketball recruit. Until then, the school was content to play small-time basketball with local talent. But university officials wanted an expanded basketball program to go with its growing enrollment.
Scholarship money was available and so was Gaddy, who learned the sport on the playgrounds of New York and refined his game at Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall high school, long famous for its basketball prowess. As a senior, Gaddy helped take his team to the quarterfinals of the New York City championship, and soon college recruiters were dogging his every step.
Gaddy narrowed his choices to four: Providence College, the University of West Virginia, the University of Texas at El Paso and George Mason. "I came very close to going to Texas-El Paso," he said, "but I wanted to be sure I'd go somewhere where I could play in my first year."
Gaddy's friends were shocked at his choice. "Nobody up there had ever heard of Fairfax," he said with a laugh. "They asked if I was getting money to go here."
"But I go home now and people have heard of it because of me."
Improving GMU's basketball image, of course, was part of the university's plan in signing Gaddy. But it almost backfired.
Fairfax is a far cry from Brooklyn, and Gaddy says it took him more than a year to adjust to the change.
"It was a different life style for me--a lot slower," said Gaddy, who saw his New York friends getting involved with robberies and drugs and credits his father Albert with keeping him "out of trouble."
A disappointing freshman year didn't ease Gaddy's adjustment difficulties. He averaged just 7.8 points a game and nearly transferred at the end of that season, especially when Riley Clarida, a high school teammate also at GMU, left to play for Long Island University.
But Gaddy stayed. And during the next two seasons he powered GMU out of Division II. He averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds a game and was touted as an All-America candidate going into the 1980-81 season.
The potential, however, was not realized. Early in the season Gaddy broke his thumb in two places in a fistfight with an opponent from Loyola of Baltimore. He was lost for the season and watched from the bench as his team, under new coach Joe Harrington, finished with 10 wins and 16 losses.
With a year left to play basketball, Gaddy rejoined the team, but his previous stellar performance was slow to return. Coach Harrington says he put too much pressure on himself early in the season.
"He was inconsistent," says Harrington, whose team is young, with six freshmen and sophomores on a 15-player roster. "He was taking bad shots and working a little lax. I talked to him about it and tried to ease the pressure."
At mid-season Gaddy was averaging 14 points and seven rebounds a game--and drawing criticism as not aggressive enough in play.
But Gaddy says it is a mistake to label him unaggressive. "No one has ever scared me on the court," he says. "I learned how to handle that on the playgrounds. A lot of people think that because I don't have a lot of weight 210 pounds I'm a powder puff."
Recently Gaddy has proven his critics wrong. In his last seven games he scored 127 points, claimed 59 rebounds, and become GMU's all-time scoring leader.
"I'm pushing myself hard now," said Gaddy, whose team has a 12-12 record so far this season. "I think we can win the East Coast Athletic Conference-South tournament March 4-6 and go to the NCAA tournament. That would be a good way to finish up here--the icing on the cake."
Gaddy would like to play professional basketball, either in the United States or in Europe, after he receives his degree in public administration. If basketball doesn't work out, he'd like to work on Capitol Hill.
But one thing, he says, is for sure: After five years in Fairfax, he doesn't want to return to Brooklyn.
"I visit friends back home and it's different," he said. "I've changed. I like to take things slower. It's a jungle up there."