George Mason searching for chemistry in its frontcourt

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

As he talked about a 270-pound player named Derrick Williams from the University of Richmond, the irony dawned on George Mason junior Johnny Williams.

He used to be a "270-pound Williams" -- 275 pounds to be exact. But that was many rounds of Patriot Center steps and several notches on his belt ago. These days George Mason's Williams is a much-leaner version of his former self, even lighter today than his roster weight of 240 pounds.

The 6-foot-8 Williams' transformation is typical of a George Mason frontcourt that is remade and trying to find chemistry. Four talented players, all 6-8, are adapting to expanded roles. But Williams isn't using that as an excuse.

"We don't think about roles because we've been playing basketball all our lives," Williams said. "When I step on the court, my goal is to rebound, block shots and score. Everybody knows what their role is. They just have to affect it."

In the inaugural Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic on Saturday, when George Mason (6-4) takes on Richmond (9-3), the Patriots will try to counter the perimeter play of the Spiders with their athletic frontcourt, striving to find its niche.

After a year as a redshirt following shoulder surgery, Williams (8.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has been the most productive frontcourt player but is capable of more. Erik Copes (6.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) showed flashes as a shot blocker and rebounder last season, but after offseason hip surgery, the 6-8 sophomore has struggled to regain his form. Marko Gujanicic (5.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg), a 6-8 freshman from Serbia with perimeter skills, has yet to find his shot. Same for 6-8 sophomore Anali Okoloji (4.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg), who sat out last year after transferring from Seton Hall.

Coach Paul Hewitt's Patriots have stayed with every team on their challenging schedule. But finishing games has been a sticking point as they have lost to No. 16 New Mexico (by one point), Bucknell (by five), Maryland (by seven) and Northern Iowa (in overtime).

"I think sometimes we lose our heads a little bit, get caught up in the moment," freshman guard Patrick Holloway said. "We're doing different drills now on how to finish our games. It's just a lack of mental toughness right now."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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