The 2006 Final Four was great. I bought tons of Mason stuff celebrating our historic run. I collected magazine articles, newspaper clippings, Internet articles, and such, so that years from now I can relive those glorious moments.
Ah, but I also remember the good old days.
I entered Mason in fall 1975 as a freshman. The original Robinson Hall had just opened. The four buildings where the Finley Building stands were named simply North, South, East, and West. The bookstore was the size of a glorified closet, and you couldn’t even buy a Mason T-shirt. Tuition was $800 a year. There were no dorms.
But there was a basketball team. It played in what resembled a large high school gym at the terminus of Ring Road. Ring Road would eventually become a complete loop (now Patriot Circle), but at the time, it was only half a ring. Inside the gym, students could play pick-up games anytime that did not interfere with the team’s practice schedule. (In fact, I broke my hand my senior year playing basketball in the gym. My professors were kind enough to allow me to tape their lectures and take my exams orally.)
Even in those early days, the fans were rowdy and raucous—both of us. Seriously, many times I counted more players on the court than fans in the stands. We had about three cheerleaders. Admission was free.
These were the days of Division II, Coach Linn, Myron Contee, and Herb Estes. And, boy, were we pumped when we got our big recruit out of Brooklyn, New York, Andre Gaddy. Our schedule was grueling, what with the likes of Mount St. Mary’s.
Then came the days of Carlos Yates, followed by Kenny Sanders. I was at a game at the University of Richmond when Yates singlehandedly destroyed the Spiders. (One year, Yates was the third leading Division I scorer in the nation.) I was in Williamsburg at the ECAC South Tournament (the Colonial Athletic Association [CAA] before it was the CAA) when Navy’s David Robinson singlehandedly destroyed everybody. I was overjoyed when Yates and company beat the University of Alabama, Birmingham (then a top 20 team), and we advanced to our first-ever NIT appearance. We were 21-7 that year. I read with satisfaction the article The Sporting News did on Sanders a few years later.
Players and coaches have come and gone. I really liked Ernie Nestor. I rejoiced when we won our first CAA tournament championship to go to the NCAAs where we played Indiana in the first round and shot so badly the CBS commentator referred to us as George “Masonry” (i.e., bricklayers). There have been good years and down years, and through it all I have remained a huge Patriot fan.
And, oh yes, a word about Coach Larranaga. What a man of class and integrity. He brings to our athletic program and our school a level of professionalism, honesty, and even joy of which we can be proud. Forget the Final Four, Coach L is not only a good coach, he is a good man. He is an outstanding ambassador for Mason. Thank you, Coach.
Yes, the Final Four run was magnificent, but being able to look back and see it from the perspective of the past three decades makes it for me all the more special. Thirty-two years of green and gold, and still counting.
—Kirby D. Smith, BA American Studies ’79, is pastor of Oak Forest Baptist Church in Chesterfield, Virginia. He is also an adjunct professor of church history and Old Testament at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Richmond.