Jesse Young: Leaders of the Pats


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Ontario native Jesse Young often finds his home country the butt of jokes made by his fellow George Mason students.

“All the time,” he laughs. “I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t hear something.”

But the joking stops when the 6-foot-10, 250-pound senior hits the basketball court. Young, a first-team all-Colonial Athletic Association selection last year, will have to be all business again this year. The Patriots were planning on have a deep, experienced roster, but since the end of last season lost five players they were expecting to have at this season’s tip-off.

That means the burden of helping the Patriots get back to the NCAA tournament, where they nearly pulled off an upset of Maryland two years ago, or the NIT, where they were last season, falls squarely on the shoulders of Young and two other key returners.

Jon Larranaga and Raoul Heinen will join Young as George Mason’s go-to players when the Patriots tip off at Central Michigan on Friday. But Young will get the stiffest test guarding the Chippewas 7-foot center Chris Kaman.

Leading a team is a role Young is ready for, but that wasn’t always the case. He arrived at the Fairfax university a timid, spindly 205-pounder.

“I would say because of a certain kind of competition he faced in Canada, he had to spend some time, like most freshman do, adjusting to the level of talent in Divison I basketball,” said head coach Jim Larranaga, who is entering his sixth season at George Mason.

“It wasn’t too competitive,” said Young of basketball in Ontario. “I was always the biggest guy, so I pretty much had my way.”

But at George Mason, he immediately went up against guys who were bigger, stronger and could jump higher.

“Just the strength was the biggest difference,” Young said. “They were men, and I was still just a boy. That and the intensity, the working your hardest on every single play.”

George Evans, regarded as possibly the best player in George Mason history, took Young under his wing. Now Young, who Larranaga said went from 205 to 220 to 240 to 250 in his four years, is ready to give some of that guidance back to the Patriots’ young players.

And they’ll need it.

Darren Tarver missed most of the Patriots 19-10, 13-5 CAA season while injured last year. He was a scoring machine when he did play, but a heart condition discovered after a pickup game ended his career. Starting guard Lamar Butler is out indefinitely with a hip flexor. Colin Wyatt, a top reserve, is sidelined for 12 weeks following knee surgery. Deon Cooper suffered a stress fracture and will miss 4-6 weeks and senior Derek Franklin left the team to concentrate on raising his 3.76 grade-point average.

Larranaga says that means Young, Heinen, and the younger Larranaga may not have to worry about getting taken out of the game often, but it also means the burden is on them to play through any poor shooting nights or tough stretches.

Young said he doesn’t feel pressured. But both he and Larranaga know they’ll have to be patient.

Richard Tynes, a 6-4 junior guard and 6-5 junior college transfer Mark Davis will round out the starting lineup. After the trip to Central Michigan, George Mason will travel to Southern Illinois (an NCAA sweet-16 team last season), host Ole Miss (an SEC power) and then play Duquesne, an Atlantic-10 team. By the time the Patriots close out December with a game at top-10 Pittsburgh, they might just be coming into their own.

But that didn’t stop Larranaga from setting high expectations for Young. He expects his leader to lead the CAA in rebounding and be the conference’s top free-throw shooting big man. Young can make 15-foot jumpers and is excited to run a new offense that has the Patriots featuring him in the high post.

For the record, Young did play hockey while growing up in Canada, right until he grew out of his skates. Sure it’s cold, he says, but summer is much like it is in Virginia.

Larranaga calls him a likeable person, and thinks of him as a player who’s grown more confident as he’s played at George Mason.

Young’s roommates, Jon Larranaga, Heinen and Wyatt, are from various backgrounds. The walls of their on-campus apartment are adorned with the Canadian, Dutch, Irish and American flags. Young says the ribbing goes back and forth between the friends and roommates.

But they get along just fine on the court. With a matured Young at the forefront, Mason hopes to again find itself where only one CAA team each year does: in the NCAA tournament.

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