WASHINGTON -- It wasn't by accident that George Mason coach Jim Larranaga lured his entire starting lineup from the state of Maryland.
When interviewed for the job nine years ago, Larranaga said he was asked about his recruiting philosophy. At the time, he said he wanted to try and build a "family," and would do that by targeting local players so their families could also be a part of the program and attend the games.
"We made Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the state of Maryland the bull's-eye," Larranaga said yesterday at Verizon Center, where his team practiced before a small home crowd for today's NCAA Washington Regional matchup against Wichita State.
"My staff went out to recruit all of the top players in this area, hoping we would get a few. Over the last nine years, it's improved each and every year. That tradition then continues. It almost snowballs."
Sophomore forward Will Thomas, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph, has averaged 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds heading into today's 7:27 p.m. tip-off. Senior forward Jai Lewis, from Aberdeen, has played in front of both NBA and NFL scouts this season. Point guard Folarin Campbell is a native of Silver Spring, Lamar Butler was a standout at Oxon Hill. Tony Skinn, who started all but the past two games, grew up in Takoma Park.
"It was definitely planned," Larranaga said of the numerous local recruits. "It was not something that just happened. It was a clear priority. These are the best kids. These are the kids we want in our program."
The latest signee is Mount St. Joseph's Louis Birdsong, who was also recruited by Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and UNC Wilmington.
Sophomore guard John Vaughan of Lanham said he was recruited by former Maryland assistant coach Dave Dickerson, but was never offered a scholarship. Asked why he thought there were so many players from Maryland on Mason's roster, Vaughan said, "Maryland turned down a lot of us."
"George Mason, the coaching staff, they went out looking for the best," said Vaughan, who was granted a medical redshirt this season. "They showed a lot of faith, a lot of interest and a lot of confidence in us. I also think another reason we wanted to come was so we could play right away. I think that's one of the reasons a lot of Maryland guys are here."
Under the radar
Washington guard Brandon Roy is well aware he's not a household name on the East Coast.
Maybe he should be.
Roy, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, enters today's game against Connecticut with an average of 20.2 points, 4.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
"I think he's the most complete player in America," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. "And I was trying not to be biased."
Roy was somewhat overshadowed last year by Huskies guard Nate Robinson, who was the 21st pick in the 2005 NBA draft. Once conference play began this season, though, Romar said Roy began "an unverbalized crusade to make people understand who he is and who the Huskies are."
He's definitely got Connecticut's attention.
"Brandon Roy is, in my opinion, one of the top two or three players in the country," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "If he's not one of the best two or three kids in the country in playing this game of basketball, then I guess I've lost my judgment about how good a guy can be."
Connecticut forward and former Archbishop Spalding standout Rudy Gay said yesterday he has heard from just about everybody he knows since he arrived in the area for the Sweet 16.
"Text messages, e-mails, everything," he said. "It's crazy. I just told my family beforehand I'm here for business. Other than that, everything else is going to have to hold up."
Two individuals Gay said he hasn't chatted with in a while are Maryland junior forward Will Bowers, a former teammate, and his former high school coach, Mike Glick.
Gay said Glick came to his last regular-season game and told him he was proud of him. Gay occasionally catches up with Bowers online.
"He tells me what I should do," Gay said, "and I tell him what he should do."