George Mason is getting the band back together. Maybe the pep band, too. Thirteen years after the Patriots advanced to the Final Four with one of the most surprising runs in NCAA men’s basketball tournament history, three members of that team are reuniting for a chance at $2 million.
Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, starters for Coach Jim Larranaga’s legendary 2005-06 squad, will suit up for the Green Machine in the Basketball Tournament, a 64-team, single-elimination, five-on-five tournament that tips off next month at eight regional sites. Lamar Butler, who was named the most outstanding player of the Washington Region during the Patriots’ run to the Final Four, will coach George Mason’s alumni team in the tournament, which is in its fifth year.
Several George Mason graduates, including Mike Morrison (Class of 2012), Ryan Pearson (2012) and Bryon Allen (2014), have participated in the Basketball Tournament on various other teams before. Shortly after his Louisiana United squad was eliminated in last year’s round of 16 with a controversial loss to the four-time champion Overseas Elite, Morrison set about organizing a team of former Patriots.
Morrison contacted Johnny Coleman, a former George Mason men’s basketball manager who returned to the school to pursue a master’s degree three years ago and serves as the equipment manager for GMU’s 22 varsity sports. Together, they reached out to alumni still playing professionally abroad to gauge their interest in forming a team. After Thomas announced he was in, others followed.
“Everybody always kind of looked up to him and what he was able to do in his career in college and continued to do in the pros,” Morrison said of Thomas, who recently completed his fourth season with Valencia Basket in Spain. “Getting Will signed up was like getting Jordan to sign up for the Olympics. Once you got Jordan, it was like, all right, everyone else is on board.”
Campbell, who re-signed with Kleb Basket Ferrara in Italy this week, committed to play. Pearson and Allen agreed to leave their former TBT teams. Isaiah Tate and Erik Copes signed on. Two non-Mason alumni — Austin Freeman, who starred at Georgetown and is friends with Tate, and Phil Scrubb, who graduated from Carleton College and played with Morrison in Germany — round out the Green Machine’s roster.
Butler’s playing career ended several years ago, but Morrison said he was an obvious choice to lead the team. Larranaga used to refer to his starting shooting guard as “Coach Butler” and would allow him to sit in on meetings with recruits.
“In the back of my mind, I was always like, ‘I don’t want to coach college,' but I guess he saw something in me that I didn’t see,” said Butler, an assistant coach for Paul VI’s boys’ basketball team and Team Takeover, a Washington-based AAU program. “I’m learning the ropes, and I definitely want to coach in college now.”
The Green Machine will open the tournament against the Web, Richmond’s alumni team, on July 26 at Siegel Center in Richmond. Should it survive that game, it will face the winner of Ram Nation, VCU’s alumni team coached by Eric Maynor, and Team DRC, which is sponsored by Redskins cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The biggest obstacle in the eight-team Richmond regional is Overseas Elite, which is led by former NBA player Jeremy Pargo. It will open against the Hilltop Dawgs, UMBC’s alumni squad, which includes several players who were part of the first 16th-seeded team to beat a No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history in 2018. Morrison knows better than most what it will take to dethrone Overseas Elite after “a late, late whistle” spoiled his team’s upset bid against the champs last year.
“We’re the third seed, and the bracket kind of worked out in our favor, but at the same time, they put us 30th, and that’s a little disrespectful,” Morrison said, referring to ESPN’s ranking of the 64-team field. “We’re going in motivated. It’s going to be great to actually get out there and put on the green and gold again together."
As the Green Machine’s general manager, Coleman is responsible for organizing practices and travel logistics. He said he’s in discussions with tournament directors about having Doc Nix and the Green Machine, the high-energy pep band formed after Mason’s Final Four run, attend his team’s games.
“That would be dope,” Butler said. “Us older guys never got a chance to play in front of Doc Nix.”
Before George Mason’s storybook season, Larranaga invited sports psychologist Bob Rotella to meet with his team. Rotella asked players to close their eyes and dream their biggest dream for the coming year. A few minutes later, when asked to volunteer what he imagined, Butler said he dreamed the Patriots went to the Final Four. This time, the 35-year-old will dream even bigger.
“I learned my lesson in 2006 not to sell myself or my teammates short,” Butler said. “I’ll definitely be visualizing us cutting the nets down and walking away with that check for $2 million.”
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