It was 10 years ago that the George Mason men's basketball team pulled off "a magic carpet ride," according to former head coach Jim Larranaga.
The Patriots, then in the Colonial Athletic Association, earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and stunned blue-blood programs Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to the reach the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. The miracle run came to a close during the national semifinals against eventual champion Florida, but George Mason's starting five -- all from Maryland -- captivated the country.
A decade later, here is a look at the five starters on that team, their hometown and where they are now:
(Fort Washington, Md.)
After playing overseas from 2006-10, Butler is back in the area and is a basketball coach at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. The guard from Oxon Hill High School averaged 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists during the 2005-06 season and graced the cover of
Sports Illustrated after Mason beat UConn to earn a spot in the Final Four.
"The best memory was all of us celebrating the win over UConn on the tables in front of our fans," Butler recalled. "I remember Tony [Skinn] jumping up on it first, and everyone followed him up there. Going to the Final Four let me know that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. That preseason was brutal. All summer, guys worked hard and had a laser-like focus going into that year."
After scoring 1,488 points in four years at George Mason, Butler began his pro career in the Czech Republic during the 2006-07 season. Butler then played for a team in Istanbul in 2007-08 and averaged 20.3 points per game. Butler played for Colorado and Reno in the NBA Development League in 2008-09, then headed back overseas for the 2009-10 season in Turkey.
Chris Caputo, an assistant coach at George Mason for the Final Four run, said Butler was one of the best shooters in program history.
"He was just a tremendous person and upbeat," said Caputo, now an assistant at Miami under Larranaga. "He was just a great ambassador for the program."
(Silver Spring, Md.)
Campbell has had a long pro career overseas and has been playing for Energa Czarni Slupsk in Poland this season. During his first 18 games this season, he averaged 30.6 minutes, 13.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest.
"In high school, [Campbell] was so talented," said Caputo, who helped recruit most of the Final Four team. "We were fortunate to get him, along with John Vaughn."
Vaughn was injured and did not play during the Final Four run but had a four-year career for the Patriots.
"Folarin was a great ambassador for the program. He had a very good NCAA tournament," Caputo said.
A Springbrook High School graduate, Campbell was a sophomore on the 2006 Mason team and began his pro career in 2008 in Italy. Since then, he has played in leagues in Germany, Italy and Latvia.
After playing overseas for several seasons from 2006-13, Lewis is now a behavioral specialist at Halstead Academy in Parkville, Md., and lives in Rosedale, Md. He and his wife, Avon, have a boy, Jai, who is 5 years old and a daughter, Jacey, who was born Aug. 12, 2015.
Lewis played in Japan, the Philippines, France, Israel and Korea before returning to Maryland.
"I would say my favorite country was the Philippines," Lewis said. "My second favorite was Israel. Israel was the first place I went and everyone spoke English, and the basketball was great. I felt playing in the Philippines … I was more humble. They are not a rich country, but they make the best of what they have."
Lewis, a forward, was a solid inside presence for George Mason. Even though he did not play football in college (George Mason has a club program), he attracted attention from the NFL's New York Giants as a possible tight end but never took part in training camp.
"Jai was such a unique player. So few guys with his size (at nearly 300 pounds) have his skill set," Caputo said. "He could make a 3 -- he could put the ball on the ground. He was more athletic than he looked. He had an unbelievable basketball IQ."
(Takoma Park, Md.)
A guard from Takoma Academy, Skinn was born in Nigeria, played for Nigeria in the 2012 London Olympics and spent several seasons overseas from 2006-12. He played junior college ball at Hagerstown Community College before transferring to Mason, where he was a guard on the Final Four team.
"One of the things that happened [early] that season was we moved Tony off the ball and put Folarin on the ball. Tony still guarded the other team's point guard," Caputo said. "Tony had very much a scorer's mentality."
After Skinn ended his playing career, Caputo helped him get involved in coaching with the AAU circuit in the D.C. area. After former George Mason assistant coach Eric Konkol got the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech in 2015, Skinn joined his staff as an assistant coach. The Bulldogs are a member of Conference USA and won 23 of their first 31 games this season.
"I have known Tony for many years after recruiting and coaching him at George Mason and he is an excellent example of the kind of Players Program we strive to build at Louisiana Tech," Konkol said of Skinn, according to the school's website. "Tony was a talented and hardworking player and has the same qualities as a coach. Our student-athletes will benefit greatly from his vast experiences all over the world and at multiple levels. I am very happy he is joining us."
A Mount St. Joseph graduate, Thomas has been playing this season in Spain for the second year in a row. He played in Belgium, Georgia, Turkey and Italy before spending the 2014-15 season in Spain. The Baltimore native was a sophomore forward on the George Mason squad that reached the Final Four.
Former Patriots assistant coach Bill Courtney, who grew up in Springfield, Va., and is now the head coach at Cornell, was the first member of the coaching staff at George Mason to see Thomas play in high school at Mount St. Joe. Caputo said Konkol, then a George Mason assistant, was adamant that Thomas was a really good player.
"He is a very quiet guy but a great competitor. When he got on the court, he was a fierce competitor. That was his calling card the rest of his career," Caputo said.
Thomas finished his George Mason career with 1,564 points and had 993 rebounds in 131 games.
Issue 219: March 2016