Mason 2006 NCAA Final Four Run: An event deserving of memorialization.


Anyone that was following the NCAA tournaments remembers the George Mason vs UCONN game. The game that defined George Mason’s presence in the NCAA tournament and pushed us closer in the running to claim the national championship. George Mason was described as the “Cinderella team” and it seemed that we were running on luck. No one knew where we came from, where we were and how long our takeover would last. I doubt they could have predicted our takeover would lead us to face one of the most dominant teams in collegiate basketball. UCONN this team had players with the athletic potential to make the 2006 NBA Draft. Five of which did (Rudy Gay, 8th, Houston; Hilton Armstrong, 12th, New Orleans; Marcus Williams, 22nd, New Jersey; Josh Boone, 23rd, New Jersey; Denham Brown, 40th, Seattle. Gay was the achiever in this class). Our 2006 men’s basketball team was not expected to win against the one of the top seeds in the tournament but, we won.Let me paint the picture most who were present at the game saw:

The score is 84 UCONN to 86 George Mason, the Mason is hanging on to that two point lead in hopes of knocking UCONN down. The game had been taken to overtime after UCONN scored a layup towards the end of the game tying the score 74-74. With 4 seconds left in overtime Denham Brown plucks a rebound and hustles down the court. He steps back and shoots a 3 in a final attempt by UCONN to take the game back from the “Cinderella team” While the ball is up in the air it moves almost in slow motion before it hits the rim and is caught by Lamar Butler. George Mason had just sent UCONN packing.An event like this for a school like George Mason at such a sensitive time in its development was a major. This paper is going to highlight the significance of the George Mason NCAA Final Four Run in 2006 and how this tournament shaped the course of the University, the opportunities it offered the school, going in depth, highlighting the 2006 season analyzing the team and then finally concluding with a quick synopsis of my main points. 

In October of 2005, Coach Laranaga invited one of his friends to come in and speak to a very talented team of young men repping Mason Patriot jerseys. This person was Bob Rotella, a sports psychologist and another first hand witness to the dream that started one of the impressive, exciting basketball seasons in the history of Mason Basketball.During the meeting, the team was asked to place their heads on the table and dream of what the season could be like. While we are not sure what the other team members recounted as their dream we remember one. Lamar Butler volunteered to share his dream which was that George Mason University made it to the Final Four.  “After a few minutes, he asked them to raise their heads and to volunteer their dream. Lamar Butler raised his hand and said, ‘I dreamt we went to the Final Four.’” (Mason Madness: Inside the Most Unlikely Run in NCAA Tournament History, 2016). George Mason had moved from it’s NCAA D11 into NCAA D1 status during the 1978-1979 Basketball season.(Wikipedia contributors, 2021) and Before 2006, Mason had only made it to the NCAA tournament 3 times (1989 ,1999, 2001). This run was not only going to make history but throw George Mason into a media frenzy. 

Making History in one season:

In order to understand how exceptional this run was for the History of Mason’s Men’s basketball team let’s highlight the records set and the history made by this season alone.

  • First trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, NCAA Elite Eight, and NCAA Final Four in school history 
  • First NCAA Tournament win in school history 
  • First time the Patriots have defeated two top-10 teams, Connecticut and North Carolina 
  • First season in school history with 27 wins and 497 assists 
  • First season in school history to end with a 0.384 field-goal percentage defense and 58.9 scoring defense
  • First team from the Colonial Athletic Association to reach the Final Four

(Hoop Dreams – The Mason Spirit – George Mason University, 2006)

Media with Coach Larranaga

“DAYTON, Ohio The tournament could have been played without George Mason, and nobody outside of Fairfax would have noticed. The team without an NCAA victory in its history, a team that put the “mid” in mid-major — a team playing without its best player — beat a power conference powerhouse here Friday night. And even if it wasn’t the biggest upset of the day — Northwestern State beating Iowa qualifies as that — it was big enough for George Mason which, after 27 years of basketball, discovered the true joy of March Madness.”(Michael Wilbon – Mid-Major Patriots’ Victory Is Major, 2006)

To say that George Mason’s Final Four run increased the visibility of the university would be an understatement. The Mason Men’s Basketball team had embodied the underdog profile so much so that a lot of people who had no previous knowledge of the university assumed we were a small school hailing from rural Virginia when that was far from the case. We were not just getting attention from the outside world, students that attended the school were starting to take notice of Mason Athletics and pride in the institution grew. A mason student in 2006 could walk around and be recognized by anyone who was tuning into the NCAA tournament. If they did not know who George Mason was, they were looking it up. According to Hoop Dreams – The Mason Spirit – George Mason University, Google Searches for “ “George Mason basketball” jumped by 294 percent and into Yahoo.com’s top 500 searches. On the day of the Final Four game, “George Mason” was Google’s most-requested search” the google trend analytical graph shown below shows the uptick during the NCAA tournaments in 2006. 

2006-02-2698
2006-03-0585
2006-03-121513
2006-03-193435
2006-03-2610093
2006-04-021915
2006-04-09108
trends.google.com

A win for Mason

The Final four run increased the student experience by 1,000 percent. Students were excited to be apart of the journey, they were excited to be Mason students and represent the in terms of NCAA success the underdog.

“Everyone was talking about it”

-Alan Merten (Beyond The Bubble: George Mason University)

We had all eyes on us and supported flooding from everywhere from the student body becoming more present and involved in the school. Students were ready to show out for the team. Not only through attendance but also through wardrobe. “In two weeks the George Mason University Bookstore sold more than 25,000 NCAA-related pieces of clothing and nearly 1,500 hats, along with another 8,000 pieces of general Mason gear. According to bookstore manager Jack Smith, “We sold more clothing in one week than we did all of last year.” Above, the line for Final Four gear.” (Hoop Dreams – The Mason Spirit – George Mason University, 2006)/

Students camped out waiting for tickets

As if camping out for tickets and seeing all forms of press hanging around on campus was not enough to show the impact of this event on the school then, Lamar Butler’s cover on Sports Illustrated should do the trick. Sports Illustrated is a popular sporting magazines that has featured world renowned athletes like Micheal Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods and Lebron James had put a George Mason Athletes on the cover. This marked the statement the basketball team had been making through their performance. We have arrived.

Lamar Butler featured on Sports Illustrated

The 2006 Mason men’s team became almost overnight sensations. They were students just like everyone else at mason but, they had done something extraordinary. They had taken the school to one of the most distinguished national tournaments and had made George Mason known. Students on campus had become more aware of the school’s basketball team and were so excited to be part of the journey. So excited that The players could not go anywhere without being hounded by their colleagues for pictures and or autographs. Truly a magical moment.

Lamar Butler singing autographs

Students and Players were not the only ones reveling in the glory of the Final Four journey. While they were no longer college students. Mason Alumni were not counted out of the celebration. There was love from alum spanning throughout the nation. This Final Four run pushed some Mason Alum to connect with others in order to properly celebrate and support the team. “Sheer joy from the basketball success motivated Mason’s 100,000+ alumni to reconnect—with each other and with their alma mater. E-mails, calls, letters, and contributions poured into the Alumni Affairs Office from around the country. Some even stopped by, including one jetlagged fan from the West Coast. Watch parties were hosted at 69 venues in 22 states.” (Hoop Dreams – The Mason Spirit – George Mason University, 2006)

Alumni support from Chicago, Illinois

New Opportunities:

The Final Four run set a lot of things right for George Mason not just student pride and recognition but, it Brough about a lot of opportunities. After the year 2006, an estimated 300-400 more freshman enrolled to the school so many more that a couple of these students had to be housed in hotels. “Merten said there were 300 to 400 more freshmen enrolled at George Mason this fall. He said he anticipated an increase but wasn’t prepared for the number, forcing the university to house students in a hotel.” (GEORGE MASON MEN’S BASKETBALL FEATURED ON ESPN.COM, 2006). This final four run in a way indirectly fostered the universities decision to challenge itself and move conferences.

“On March 25, 2013 George Mason University President Dr. Ángel Cabrera held a press conference to formally announce the university’s decision to leave the Colonial Athletic Association to join the Atlantic 10 Athletic Conference (A-10). The announcement came just days after the Board of Visitors’ approval of the university’s Vision document that Dr. Cabrera had overseen.  Mason will begin competition in the A-10 during the 2013-2014 academic year, and Mason’s association with the institutions that comprise the A-10 will begin a new chapter in Mason athletics, academics, and other aspects of university life.”

(ahistoryofmason.gmu.edu)

Attendance in games skyrocketed and the players were a lot more confident stepping on the court so much so that after 2006 we made it to the NCAA tournaments again in 2011, while we did not get as far as our run in 2006. It just showed the new found confidence that new and old players had. We’ve seen it done before everyone new coaches’, new team and new players goal is to become the new cinderella team, make it to the Final Four and win the NCAA national Championship.

Citations

GEORGE MASON MEN’S BASKETBALL FEATURED ON ESPN.COM. (2006). Colonial Athletic Association (CAA Sports). https://caasports.com/news/2006/11/3/GEORGE_MASON_MEN_S_BASKETBALL_FEATURED_ON_ESPN_COM.aspx?path=mbball

Hoop Dreams – The Mason Spirit – George Mason University. (2006). Spirit.Gmu.Edu. https://spirit.gmu.edu/archives/spring06/hoops.html

Mason Madness: Inside the most unlikely run in NCAA Tournament history. (2016, March 4). Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/sports/wp/2016/03/04/mason-madness-inside-the-most-unlikely-run-in-ncaa-tournament-history/?utm_term=.8650ac480706#partfour

Mason Moves from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic 10 Conference · 2012–2019: Vision · A History of George Mason University. (2013). Ahistoryofmason.Gmu.Edu. http://ahistoryofmason.gmu.edu/exhibits/show/vision/contents/a10

Michael Wilbon – Mid-Major Patriots’ Victory Is Major. (2006, March 17). Washingtonpost.Com. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/17/AR2006031702333.html

W. (2019, November 21). George Mason’s Impressive Ride to the Final Four. Boundary Stones: WETA’s Washington DC History Blog. https://boundarystones.weta.org/2019/11/21/george-masons-impressive-ride-final-four

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, December 8). George Mason Patriots. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Mason_Patriots

Yahoo is part of the Yahoo family of brands. (2021, August 27). Yahoo.Com. https://www.yahoo.com/now/why-nba-star-stephon-marbury-164220596.html

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