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GMU forward Ryan Pearson
After 14 seasons as head coach for the Patriots, 60-year-old Jim Larranaga left town to take over the vacant Miami job in late April.
Replacing Larranaga is former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt, who went 190-162 over 11 years at the school. Hewitt didn't waste any time upon arrival, recently landing four-star center Erik Copes and former Seton Hall forward Anali Okoloji, who will sit out 2011-2012 per NCAA rules.
The Patriots lose senior All-Colonial Athletic combo guard Cam Long to graduation. Long led George Mason in scoring last season at 15.1 points per game.
The program recently suffered another blow when versatile forward Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville, giving reason to why GMU just barely cracked my poll. Hancock was the third-leading scorer (10.9 PPG), leading assist man (4.3 APG) and overall glue guy at the three-spot from last season's NCAA tournament team.
The Patriots will be led this upcoming season by All-CAA forward Ryan Pearson. The 6'6", 225-pounder is the leading returning scorer at 14.2 points per game and is primed to have his best season yet in a GMU uniform as he steps into the role of go-to guy.
Senior-to-be Andre Cornelius will return at the point, and forwards Mike Morrison and Johnny Williams will return to the frontcourt.
Incoming freshman center Copes, ranked No. 55 overall in the 2011 class according to Rivals, chose the Patriots after being released from his letter of intent with George Washington when Karl Hobbs was fired. The 6'8", 220-pound big man has a tenacious motor and is said to be a high level rebounder with impressive shot-blocking ability and hands.
The Patriots will have a very strong defensive frontcourt with Morrison, Williams, Pearson and Copes.
The question is, who will pick up the scoring slack other than Pearson now that Long and Hancock are gone?
George Mason’s success will depend on whether or not last year’s role-players can fill bigger roles, especially in the backcourt. Looking at you, Vertrail Vaughns.
Keep an eye out on 6'4" guard Sherrod Wright, who sat out last season and could step into a scoring role in the backcourt.