There were a lot of changes for the better after the George Mason men’s basketball team made its unlikely run to the Final Four in 2006.
One of the side benefits was that the Patriots were able to expand their recruiting base. While all five starters from the 2006 team hailed from Maryland, Mason now has players on its roster from as far away as Serbia, Texas and Memphis, Tenn.
The irony is that this year’s team includes just two players from Virginia. One of them is freshman shooting guard Patrick Holloway, a native of Fairfax who grew up in Stafford County and was a standout for nationally ranked Paul VI of Fairfax as a senior last season.
The 6-foot-1 Holloway considered Delaware, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s before deciding to attend Mason, which is the only school where he made an official visit. One of his teammates in high school was Tilman Dunbar, now a freshman guard at Navy.
“I like it because people can come and see me play. I know my family can come and watch,” said Holloway, a shooting guard last season for Paul VI.
“I really like the coaching staff,” he added. “I felt very comfortable.”
Mason head coach Paul Hewitt, formerly of Georgia Tech, is eager to have Holloway on the court.
“He understands the game,” Hewitt said. “He is an outstanding shooter.”
Other Mason freshmen include 6-foot-7 forward Michael Rudy, who is from Falls Church and played at St. Thomas More; forward Jalen Jenkins of Yonkers, N.Y.; and forward Marko Gujanicic of Serbia who played high school ball in California.
George Mason, under second-year coach Hewitt, will begin its season at home at the Patriot Center Nov. 9 against Virginia. The Cavaliers beat Mason, 68-46, in Charlottesville last December.
“I am looking forward to it,” Holloway said. “[Virginia] is a big school and we have to compete with the best. It will help me to get comfortable [playing against top Division I teams].”
So how will Mason replace standout inside player Ryan Pearson, who as a senior last season was the player of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association?
“A lot of people have been asking that question,” said Holloway, who saw Mason play in person last year in Fairfax against Delaware and North Carolina-Wilmington. “There are a lot of talented guys on the team. There are a lot of different pieces on the team.”
Among the returning inside players for the Patriots are 6-9 junior forward Jonathan Arledge, 6-8 sophomore center Erik Copes and 6-5 sophomore forward Vaughn Gray.
Redshirt junior guard Sherrod Wright averaged 9.6 points per game last season and is a second-team all-CAA preseason selection. Arledge averaged 4.3 points per game last season but played very well in the CAA tournament in Richmond, while Copes averaged 3.3 points per contest and Gray scored 3.4 points per outing.
Arledge, who attracted attention from Georgetown while in high school with KIMA in Washington, D.C., had 10 points and a season-high 11 rebounds in the season finale against VCU in the CAA tourney.
Mason used Byron Allen and Corey Edwards at the point guard spot most of last season. The Patriots turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of its possessions, which ranked among the bottom third of all Division I teams.
“We turned it over too many times. I think experience will help,” Hewitt said of Allen and Edwards.
“They have their guards coming back,” Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint said of Mason. “Allen is one of the best guards in the league. I think they will be good again.”
The Patriots finished third in regular season play in the CAA last year and that is where they were picked to finish this season by coaches and media personnel when the league’s annual media day was held in Arlington on Oct. 16.
Picked to win the league is Drexel, which came close to an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season after failing to win the CAA tourney title. VCU gained the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney from the CAA last season but the Rams now are a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Delaware was pegged for second in the CAA.
Old Dominion and Georgia State are not eligible for the league title since they are leaving the CAA after this season. Towson and UNC-Wilmington, due to academic problems, also can not take part in the CAA tourney in Richmond in March.
The Mason women were picked to finish in a tie for seventh with UNC-Wilmington in the CAA. Head coach Jeri Porter feels the Patriots are primed for their first winning season in nearly 10 years.
The preseason favorite among CAA women is Delaware, which features All-American Elena Delle Donne.