NCAA

The Big Twenty: George Mason's Final Four run changed the college hoops world

The Big Twenty: George Mason's Final Four run changed the college hoops world

NBC Sports Washington is rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 8.

When March Madness circles around every year there is always one question on everyone’s mind: Who is going to be the next Cinderella story? 

Or before these fairytale runs became more frequent: Which team is going to be the next George Mason? 

In 2006 the George Mason Patriots from Fairfax, Va made their improbable run to the Final Four, taking down behemoths of the sport in the process. The Patriots toppled Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to become the CAA’s first-ever representative in the Final Four. Each upset more far-fetched than the last.

Their accomplishment was nothing ever seen before from a non-traditional program.

Loyola Marymount’s 1990 push to the Elite Eight was the furthest any program of its kind had reached.  A mid-major going to the Final Four? That was inconceivable. George Mason did it, and they did against the best in college basketball. They battled through a sea of bluebloods, capturing America’s heart in the process.   

They also indirectly stole my heart and changed how the rest of my life would transpire. 

Seeing Lamar Butler grab the lose rebound at the buzzer and skipping over to the corner of the court after beating one of Jim Calhoun’s dominant Connecticut teams is one of my earliest sports memories. A point to the crowd and a couple of Butler’s body-controlled fist-pumps are all I prominently have stored in my memory bank from that contest. Shameful, really, for how much the game likely transformed the rest my life.

I watched the game from afar and like any middle schooler of the time had my newspaper bracket nearby. The result had no bearing on how I did, I had North Carolina – who Mason beat two rounds prior – in the Final Four. Little did I know that less than 15 years later that school, and perhaps that moment, had such a huge bearing in my life. 

George Mason was the lone in-state, public university I applied for during my senior year of high school. As a courtesy to my parents, I sent in an application to the suburban-D.C. institution simply because I knew of their famous flash-in-the-pan Final Four run. 

Well, it all worked out and I became a Patriot. I’m a two-time graduate of the school (2016, BA; 2019 MA). They gave me my first post-graduate job while also paying for my second degree. Spending a better-part of a decade at the school, I also met my fiancé there. By George, that school gave me a lot and who knows what would have happened had Denham Brown’s three went in for UConn that day. 

George Mason is the ultimate Cinderella Story. Sure, Jim Valvano’s 1983 N.C. State squad won a title as a No. 6 seed along with several other underdog programs. N.C. State, though, is far different than George Mason. Outside the state of Virginia, no one knew who the Patriots were and that all changed in March of 2006.

My story is not the only one. After Mason’s historic feat, it soon became less of a rarity. Butler, VCU and Loyola-Chicago all have all since followed with magical runs of their own. The Patriots blazed the trail for future mid-majors and each year we will all be looking for another to follow in their footsteps. 

But it all started with the Patriots and ever since the dream has been alive.  
 

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Current Dolphins RB and former Navy QB Malcolm Perry placed on COVID-19 reserve list

Current Dolphins RB and former Navy QB Malcolm Perry placed on COVID-19 reserve list

Current Dolphins running back and former Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry has been placed on the NFL's COVID-19 reserve list, the team announced on Monday.

The COVID-19 list is a designation for NFL players who have either tested positive for the virus or must quarantine after being in close contact with someone who had contracted coronavirus. The league's protocols require teams to not disclose the reason behind the player's placement on the reserve list. 

Perry, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Dolphins, rose to prominence during his collegiate career at Navy. Though he's now a running back in the league, Perry shined at quarterback for the Midshipmen. However, he rarely threw the football.

In three seasons as a starter, Perry rushed for over 1,000 yards during each campaign as he was the focal point of Navy's option offense. His 2019 season was something out of a video game as he ran for 2,017 yards and 21 touchdowns. Perry originally declared for the draft as a wide receiver but has now found a place as a runner with Miami. 

Positive coronavirus tests in the NFL don't come as a surprise, as the league has seen numerous players placed on the reserve list of the last week or so as teams report to training camp. Players have until Thursday, August 6, to decide if they want to opt out of the season.

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Maryland's Big Ten title hopes go through Iowa as star Luka Garza to return for senior season

Maryland's Big Ten title hopes go through Iowa as star Luka Garza to return for senior season

The Maryland Terrapins men's basketball program clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title this past season, the first time the team has accomplished the feat since joining the conference in 2014.

However, the task to repeat as conference champions became a lot more difficult on Sunday, as Iowa star Luka Garza announced his intention to return to the Hawkeyes for his senior season.

The center announced his decision on Twitter on Sunday, posting a highlight video announcing his return.

Garza, the Big Ten Player of the Year a season ago, averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Hawkeyes. With the 6-foot-11 center returning to Iowa, the Hawkeyes are certainly the team to beat in the conference entering the season.

The Terps already had an uphill battle to repeat as Big Ten champs, as the team's two best players from a season ago are no longer with the team. Point guard Anthony Cowan graduated from the university after a stellar four-year career, while sophomore center Jalen Smith decided to forego his final two seasons and enter the NBA Draft.

"I'm very excited to be back with my teammates and look towards winning a National Championship, winning a Big Ten championship," Garza said. "We have big goals in mind."

The news is tough for Maryland fans, as Garza is one of the many players in recent years that played their high school ball in the DMV before heading to college elsewhere. Garza, who played his high school basketball at the Maret School in Washington, D.C. just nine miles south from College Park, was never offered a scholarship by Terps head coach Mark Turgeon.

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