Carey inherits ways of GMU family

March 31, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

Avery Carey considers himself fortunate.

He is pretty happy with his life and enjoys what he's doing. He also remembers who helped him along the way.

Outside of family and friends, there are two names Carey would probably single out as the biggest influences in his post-Hagerstown Community College career.

George Mason and Jim Larranaga.

The first is the school - George Mason University - that Carey attended after graduating from HCC in 1996. The second is the then-first-year basketball coach who took over in 1997 and incorporated Carey into his system.


"Coming from Hagerstown and getting a scholarship at a (Division I program) was big," Carey said. "Then I was able to take the big step from there."

Carey hit his stride at GMU, averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds, playing in the 1999 NCAA Tournament, graduating and playing professionally in Europe for a season before an injury cut his career short.

Now, after returning to the area and helping as an assistant coach at HCC, Carey is front and center watching as both George Mason and Larranaga hit their strides.

Larranaga has led the George Mason basketball program to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time this season and the coach and university have hit the jackpot. The Patriots, who were 0-3 in three previous appearances in the tournament, will be playing in the Final Four in Indianapolis against Florida at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, with the winner advancing to the national championship game on Monday.

The whole experience kickstarted some strong memories for Carey, but also proved that Larranaga's teachings actually pay off both on and off the court.

"The way Coach carries the program, you are always family," Carey said. "I feel like I am a part of all this. I could pick up the phone right now and call him. He would probably tease me, saying 'Avery, what do you need? I have to do an interview.' But he would then laugh and welcome me with open arms."

Larranaga has turned George Mason into the ultimate Cinderella story. He took a "mid-major" program - any school outside the nation's six power conferences - and has it miraculously on the doorstep of a national championship.

And he has done it in a fatherly manner that all started in the Carey years at GMU.

"Coach is a disciplinarian and heavy into following the system," Carey said. "He believes in repetition. His system is defense-oriented. The offense comes off of playing defense. Still, he is laid back when he is talking to the players."

Much of Larranaga's success has come from organization and uniformity. He wants things done one way and with the same precision in an effort of eliminating the unknown.

But even that can be taken to an extreme.

"He is very strict about keeping everything the same," Carey said. "I could go the entire season wearing footies, and then, one day, I might come out wearing tube socks. He would asking me why I changed. He doesn't want change from what we have been doing."

Larranaga's methods came through when George Mason needed them most last Sunday in the overtime win over top-seeded Connecticut.

The Huskies tied GMU on a layup at the buzzer to force the overtime. Many observers thought it was the beginning of the end for the Patriots, that they would wilt under the pressure of playing extra time against one of the country's most highly regarded programs.

It didn't happen because of Larranaga's teachings, turning George Mason into party crashers at the Final Four.

"When I was watching, I could see the things that the players were coached to do coming into the game," Carey said. "That was important. The players started moving into situations that they had been taught all season.

"When the game went into overtime, he probably pulled them into the huddle and said 'This is where we wanted to be.' He was relaxed and that helps the players. When you know the coach is relaxed and behind you, it makes you feel more relaxed."

GMU's success sent Carey back to the feelings and memories that came with his trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1999, a 72-48 loss to Cincinnati in Boston in Larranaga's second year. Even though it ended in a loss, there was a lot of good Carey gained from the whole experience.

"That's what's great about being a graduate of George Mason," Carey said. "It's weird, but I feel like I'm still part of it. Coach still makes us feel like part of the family. Playing there got me the chance to go to the tournament and to play overseas. Going there was a good decision for me. It's all bigger than life now ... Going there was definitely a blessing."

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