The storied past of the George Mason University men’s basketball program and its promising future came together with the formal introduction of Tony Skinn as the Patriots’ next head coach.
The former standout point guard played a key role on the Patriots’ magical ride to the 2006 Final Four, and that mythical pedigree served as the unofficial backdrop as Skinn was formally welcomed as the school’s 12th head coach during Monday’s introductory event at EagleBank Arena.
“Who better?” asked Mason President Gregory Washington. “Who better than an all-conference basketball player? Who better than an Olympian? Who better than someone who has come up the ranks as an assistant coach at some of the finest basketball programs in our country? Who better than somebody who bleeds green and gold and was responsible for that [2006 Final Four] banner?”
Skinn, who succeeds Kim English, said it was a “dream come true” to come back to the place where he helped Mason permanently etch its name into college basketball lore and made lasting friendships among teammates and classmates that remain strong even today. Skinn and his wife, Weyni, met at Mason and are now parents to three children.
A first-time head coach, Skinn promised to play fast and spoke of the four pillars of attitude, commitment, class and family upon which he intended to build his program. He listed recruiting the talent-rich Washington, D.C., area, competing for Atlantic 10 Conference championships, winning NCAA Tournament games and successfully mentoring young men as his primary objectives.
“Winning is not easy,” he said, “but the formula to winning is clear.”
Five members of that Mason 2006 team were among the 200 or so people on hand to proudly welcome back one of their own.
“He’s likeable and connects with guys,” said Lamar Butler, a member of the 2006 team who will serve as a member of Skinn’s basketball staff. “Tony was always like that. He always brought out the best in you as a competitor. It’s just that he’s doing it now as a coach.”
A Hyattsville, Maryland, native with deep ties to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, Skinn spent a combined eight years in assistant coach roles at Ohio State, Seton Hall and Louisiana Tech.
Most recently, he served on Kevin Willard’s staff at Maryland, helping the Terps to a 22-13 record this past season that included a first-round NCAA Tournament win over West Virginia.
Skinn’s former college coach, current University of Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, predicted that his former floor general will “lead the George Mason Patriots to new heights.”
“He’s a tremendous young man, a tremendous coach,” Larrañaga said in a video tribute, “and he’s going to be a great head coach.”
A two-time All-CAA selection with Mason from 2003-2006, Skinn totaled nearly 1,100 points while starting 68 games in his George Mason basketball career. During the memorable 2006 Tournament run, he averaged 11.3 points per game while shooting 35 percent from bonus range to lead the underdog and 11th-seeded Patriots past college basketball bluebloods North Carolina, Michigan State, and Connecticut and into the Final Four.
Skinn played professionally in Europe for a number of years following graduation, and took part in the 2012 London Olympics as a member of the Nigerian National Team.
“We have all the pieces in place to make the month of March exciting again,” Mason interim athletics director Nena Rogers said.
Skinn was already anticipating meeting with all of his players following the day’s public events and sounded very much like a guy who couldn’t wait to get started.
“I haven’t been this excited to take on something since I was a basketball player,” he said.
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