Mason Madness rocks the Patriot Center

New men's head coach Paul Hewitt appeared from the tunnel during Friday night's Mason Madness celebration sporting an identical outfit to Doc Nix. It was opening night for both the men's and the women's squads, but basketball was just one part of the night's entertainment. (John Powell).

Basketball season is perhaps the most anticipated time of the year at George Mason University, and Mason Madness starts it off with a bang every year. The annual event is the official kick-off to men’s and women’s hoops, and this year the event electrified the Patriot Center crowd from the opening moments Friday night.

A massive flashmob-like assembly took place in the middle of the court to tip-off the night, with the Masonettes, the Patriots cheerleaders, UrbanKnowlogy and Doc Nix and the Green Machine all coming together to perform a dance routine to the beat of LMFAO’s “Party Rock.” Even the men’s and women’s basketball players joined the mob, showing off their own dance skills.

“We’ve had some fun Mason Madness times, you know, we made it exciting, my class made it exciting,” senior forward Mike Morrison said. “It’s sad it’s my last one.”

Not only was it Morrison’s last Madness experience, but it was also the last for fellow senior forward Ryan Pearson, who is expected to be a First Team All CAA performer this season.

“My first time I was here my freshman year, I was kind of excited, overly excited, now it’s just natural,” Pearson said.

After the opening mob, there were more performances by the Masonettes, the cheerleaders, UrbanKnowlogy and Doc Nix and the Green Machine individually, getting the packed Patriot Center to its feet.

The fans especially came alive during the special performances by Peter Rabbit, a bucket drummer from New York City, and Snap Boogie, a dancer famous for his appearance on NBC’s "America's Got Talent." The two even did a number together for the crowd. The highlight of the performance came when Peter Rabbit threw one of his drumsticks toward the basketball hoop and made the shot.

The men’s Patriots are hoping to be as successful as Peter Rabbit this season, coming off the best regular season in school history in which the Patriots were ranked in the Top 25 for the first time other than the final rankings after their Final Four run in 2006.

“The sky is the limit, you know,” Morrison said. “CAA championship, as many wins as possible […] undefeated at home, undefeated conference play, great tournament play.”

The Patriots are projected to be ranked in the Top 25 and to be the top team in the CAA to open the season according to most sport media outlets, but there has been a great deal of turn-around and drama within the program over the past few months.

It all started with former head coach Jim Larranaga’s departure for Miami, which allowed for the arrival of Paul Hewitt, formerly with Georgia Tech. Hewitt came out in style during the Mason Madness festivities, sporting the exact same outfit as Doc Nix, known for rocking a flashy suit and a bright cane to lead his Green Machine.

Hewitt will have to do more than just dress well, however, as expectations are high in Fairfax. He brought in an entirely new coaching staff, meaning even the veteran players are trying to learn a new system.

“They are unbelievable, they work us to death,” said junior guard Vertrail Vaughns about the new coaching staff. “It’s unbelievable how hard they’re pushing us.”

Although the frontcourt is a veteran unit with Morrison and Pearson, Vaugnhs and his fellow backcourt players are more unproven. Cam Long and Isaiah Tate were lost to graduation, Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville, and Andre Cornelius is in the midst of a legal situation involving credit card fraud.

Younger backcourt players will see more minutes as a result, including freshman guard Corey Edwards and freshman wing player Vaughn Gray. Both Edwards and Gray have been looking to Morrison and Pearson for guidance.

“They’re great, they’re real good leaders, I’m just going to follow their lead,” Edwards said.

Despite their leadership role, Morrison and Pearson feel these new arrivals don’t need much assistance.

“I’m not trying to hold their hands or anything,” Pearson said. “These guys are talented and come from good programs in high school.”

Regardless of tenure on the team and the new coaching staff, the men’s squad is a tight-knit group who is preaching team-oriented basketball.

“Everything we do we do it for the team, that’s our motto,” Pearson said.

That motto came from Hewitt and has stuck with the players. As the lights dimmed for introductions during the Madness, most of the squad emerged from the tunnel for sporting their gray “For the Team” T-shirts.

The night ended with a skills challenge for the women’s team, and then the green-yellow scrimmage that pitted the men’s teammates against each other. Vaughns was the most impressive performer of the brief contest, knocking down two three-pointers and a long two-pointer within a short span.

“Coming in as a freshman I had to learn everything, I had to learn the ropes, but now I’m more talkative, telling people where to go, what to do, showing the younger players the right things to do,” Vaughns said.

The regular season kicks off for the men and the women November 11 at home in a double-header. The men will face Rhode Island and the women play American.

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