Two conference titles in four seasons and a second-place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll would have most college basketball teams eager to start the season. But George Mason, which has six healthy scholarship players and three walk-ons, could be excused if it wished to delay the season by a few weeks.
"There's a lot of time between now and the conference season," Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga said. "We're going to work each day to get a little bit better, and hopefully at some point in early January, we'll be at full strength and ready to compete."
The front court, which includes all-CAA senior Jesse Young and defensive stopper Jon Larranaga, is solid. At 6 feet 10, Young scores many points off offensive rebounds. Jon Larranaga, the coach's son, is an improving floor leader whose tenacity earned him a spot on the CAA's all-defensive team last season.
Questions dot the rest of the Patriots' roster. Sophomore guard Lamar Butler, a good long-range shooter who was the CAA's rookie of the year runner-up, will be out until at least January with academic problems and a groin injury. Junior forward Deon Cooper is out with a foot injury. Sophomore forward Colin Wyatt will be out for three months after knee surgery, and guard Darren Tarver, pegged for stardom after transferring from junior college last season, had his career ended by heart trouble last spring.
Junior guard Raoul Heinen will be counted on to continue the improvement he showed last year as a regular starter.
"In my 18 years as a head coach, I thought last year was going to be my most challenging," Jim Larranaga said. "But now this year is going to be a greater challenge."
-- Brian Straus