By the end of his freshman year at George Mason University, Andre Gaddy often asked himself why he had not bought a round-trip ticket from his Brooklyn home to the Fairfax school.
A street-wise New Yorker, Gaddy felt uncomfortable at the campus in the Virginia suburbs. He also was not at ease on the basketball court, and this former high-school flash was flopping frequently.
So why is Andre Gaddy still at George Mason?
His social life on campus still has not improved, Gaddy said, but life between the end lines is on an upsurge for the 6-foot-10 sophomore center.
"I said before the season that if Andre gave us a 15-point, 10-rebound performance, we'd be tough," said Patriot Coach John Linn. Linn had also predicted a.500 finish for GMU, which was venturing into rugged Division I country for the first time.
The Patriots already have far exceeded Linn's expectations, with a 168 record. And that success has been due in no small part to Gaddy, who also has surpassed Linn's preseason forecast.
"Gaddy was the man responsible for beating us both times this year," said Mount St. Mary's Coach Jim Phelan. "I was impressed with him last year as a freshman. But he was inconsistent -- hot one minute, terrible five minutes later.He's more consistent this season. That's obviously due to hard work on his part."
Gaddy has nearly tripled his scoring average from 7.8 points as a freshman to 20.1 currently.He is shooting 60.3 percent from the field, compared to 39.7 last year, and has improved his free-throw accuracy to a respectable 72 percent.
And yet, when Riley Clarida, last year's leading scorer left GMU at the end of the school year, Gaddy was ready to bolt, too, with his old highschool teammate.
"I was thinking about Riley the whole summer," Gaddy said. "I really debated whether to split. I talked to my father about it, and he said that you can't run from things. So I stayed, mostly to show people here I could play.
"Part of the problem last year was that I didn't have a car. My partner Riley and I were used to just cutting out and going. There was absolutely nothing happening here on campus.
"I was worried about too many things. I was kind of tense, didn't fit in, wasn't at home. This year, I got a whole lot more confidence. I've got myself together mentally."
Gaddy was an all-city player at Erasmus Hall High in Brooklyn, averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots his senior year. Texas-El Paso, Providence, West Virginia and Syracuse wooed him. So why George Mason?
"I was set to go to El Paso, but decided against it because my mom and me were real tight and she wouldn't be able to see me play there," Gaddy said. "At all the other schools, the assistant coaches told me I'd have to sit out my freshman year, work on lifting the weights and pick up some experience slowly.I knew I could play immediately at George Mason."
Another disappointment for Gaddy were the facts of athletic life at George Mason.
"When I was in high school, I heard about all the things you got as extra benefits," he said. "But this is definitely not a basketball factory. You get nothing here -- no marks and no money. That's what I was looking for, but all I found was a hard time."
Gaddy cited conflicts among last year's Patriot players for the team's miserable 9-17 showing.
"Everybody was jealous," he said. "The five previous starters didn't play because the newcomers stepped right in. This year, the team is more familiar with one another. The guys on the bench are taking it easy."
But Gaddy's opponents are not easing up on the reborn sophomore. "I'm having plenty of problems," Gaddy said. "It seems like with every team we play, the main thing is to beat me until I can't play anymore."
Weighing in at a slender 195 on a 610 frame -- "I could be taller if I could stand up straight," he said, "but I'm bowlegged" -- Gaddy wisely rarely ventures into the meat market underneath the hoop. Instead, he pops away with deadly 15-footers.
"He just turns around and sticks it right up," said Phelan. "Gaddy needs work on moves toward the basket and fakes. Against a good defender... he has to fade on his shot -- that takes away from his offensive rebounding. But I think he'll get around to developing his inside game.
"He's already a great nucleus to build a Division I team around."