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A Final Four appearance is helping Jim Larranaga now, but it may not in later years.
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By Steve DeShazo
Of course, 15 minutes of fame can be a double-edged sword for midmajor teams. Grant's achievements in his first year as a college head coach made him the only candidate Florida contacted when Billy Donovan took (then abdicated) the job as coach of the NBA's Orlando Magic.
Grant, a longtime Gators assistant, spoke with Florida AD Jeremy Foley but never was offered the job before Donovan changed his mind. Even those nervous 48 hours, though, reflected well on VCU. New Rams AD Norwood Teague told a reporter that Grant's status as a hot commodity--like that of former coach Jeff Capel (now at Oklahoma) gives the impression that VCU is now a launching pad, both for players and coaches.
But as Larranaga learned last year, the luster fades quickly in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately era. Last season's Patriots, depleted by graduation, went 9-9 in CAA regular-season play before catching fire in the tournament--only to be foiled by Maynor.
"What I expect we will have learned from last season," Larranaga said, "is the same lesson other teams taught us: In the CAA, you can't take a night off. We were a very inconsistent team."
This year's squad should be better. All five starters return, including forward Will Thomas and guard Folarin Campbell, who starred on the Final Four team. Other supporting players are now comfortable with their roles, and the freshman class includes a previously unthinkable star recruit from powerhouse DeMatha, guard Isaiah Tate.
VCU has Maynor back, along with fellow starters Michael Anderson and Will Fameni. Still, Grant smiled when told how Larranaga had touted the Rams' veterans.
"I want to know what coach called our team experienced when I've got to go to practice every day with seven freshmen," he said.
Six of those seven hail from Florida, a nod to the reputation Grant carved as Donovan's top recruiter for a decade. Whether the Rams can snag a few blue-chip recruits who wouldn't have given them the time of day previously remains to be seen.
Still, as Flint--a former coach at Massachusetts--put it: "I've always been big on perception. If people perceive you to be good, they're going to look at you differently."
George Mason has been good for a while. Lately, they've been very good. Taking the next step and staying there is considerably harder.
Said Larranaga: "If we can turn not only on our run to the Final Four, but the success of VCU and ODU, into TV exposure, we can narrow the gap between us and the high majors."
The clock is ticking.Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443