Final four anniversary looks to past, hopes for future

Official photo of the Final Four team/ Courtesy of George Mason Athletic Department records.

Official photo of the Final Four team/ Courtesy of George Mason Athletic Department records.

The athletic department announced recently via social media plans to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Mason’s journey to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

Clues on the department’s Twitter account finally led to the unveiling of a commemorative logo and an announcement that attendees at upcoming Mason basketball games can expect to be a part of the festivities.

Athletic Director, Brad Edwards, believes in celebrating all major athletic achievements but that this one is special for the profound impact it had on the Mason community.

“The logo was the big piece starting the conversation and getting people’s minds back on that year and what it meant to the institution, not only from a spirit and pride standpoint but also from an impact and a return on investment,” Edwards said.

Fans will remember Mason’s Cinderella-like journey to the semifinal round of the NCAA tournament in 2006, where the team was selected 11th seed after an impressive win against Wichita State and continued to surprise and inspire viewers as they made their way to Final Four.

Behind the team was the university community, who was ready and willing to support this team through the tournament. Bob Vay, digital collections archivist in University Libraries Special Archives, recalls stories of students flooding the campus and driving around Patriot Circle for hours after the team’s narrow win against UConn that guaranteed their spot in the Final Four.

None of the event celebrations are officially on the calendar yet. However, Edwards says that both players and attendees can look forward to on-court activities, group reunions, commemorations and giveaways. Members of the Final Four team might also be making appearances to visit fans and meet the current team.

But the events could be a hard sell for fans that have seen the program decline in recent years and would rather focus on the future than celebrate the past. Junior and longtime Mason basketball supporter, Dylan Davis, says he has continually seen less active student support.

“It is very noticeable to see a disconnect between the program and the community. [Game] attendance is at it’s lowest and spirit seems to be on the decline,” Davis said.

Edwards, however, sees it differently. While acknowledging that it’s been a tough few years, he believes that it’s not indicative of the kind of success the team is capable of. Rather than seeing the anniversary as an opportunity to dwell on the program’s former glory, he wants it to be the key that unlocks a brighter future filled with new leadership and renewed enthusiasm.

That future starts next season with new head coach, Dave Paulsen.

Hailing most recently from Bucknell University, Paulsen said he chose Mason for it’s rich history and tradition that sets an expectation to make NCAA runs. Most of his time thus far has been focused on recruiting and getting to know his team, but he’s prepared to hit the ground running once practices officially start.

“Everywhere I’ve been since I’ve been here, whether it be with student groups on campus, administrators, faculty, staff, in the wider Mason athletics community, they’re very excited, energetic, fanatical about the team and about the program,” Paulsen said. “I think we can create an environment at Eagle Bank Arena that’s really electric and a lot of fun for students and a really supportive atmosphere for our team.

As a member of Mason basketball’s certified hype-squad, Patriot Platoon, Davis is excited for the prospect of a new coach that wants to find more creative ways for the community to get
excited about the season.

“Sports, especially basketball, is an event that everyone can get behind to support and I hope the Final Four Anniversary events get people out to games for the love of the sport and not the record,” Davis said.

While Paulsen wants to focus on rebuilding a team that is both focused on playing great while being active in their community, he knows that part of renewing the spirit will be generating wins. This idea is not lost on Edwards either.

“Winning…is an important part in that it’s a positive for the fans, it’s a positive for the students, it builds a lot of pride and self-image that your students and athletes have,” Edwards said.

However, Paulsen acknowledges that the team has some work to do before they reach the community’s
full expectations.

For him, it all comes down to uniting the team and the community towards one common goal.

“I don’t know how many games the team is going to win this year but I do know that when the student body comes to games, they’re going to see a group of guys that play extremely hard, play with a lot of passion and play for each other,” Paulsen said.

He believes that once that connection begins between both players and spectators, the results will follow soon after.

The basketball seasons tips off on Nov. 13 against Colgate at Eagle Bank Arena.