Senior Isaiah Tate (13) shoots for three on last Thursdays senior night win. Photo By Peter Flint

It’s hard to believe that in 2006 the George Mason University Patriots had the best basketball season in school history.

Who would’ve thought that five years later, the Patriots would have a 14-game winning streak and be the hottest team in the nation, knocking on the doors of the top-25 and being placed in favorable seeds for the NCAA tournament by college basketball analysts nationwide?

The Patriots’ senior class — the first recruiting class after the Final Four run — had the expectations to be successful. Senior Isaiah Tate came to Mason with the buzz of the Final Four still in the air. This year, an atmosphere reminiscent of that era has returned, with the media drawing comparisons between the two teams.

“It’s great to be compared to a great team like they were, but we are not them. We want to make our own identity,” said Tate, who committed to Mason before his senior year at DeMatha Catholic High School, an all-boys school in Hyattsville, Md.

While there, he played for one of the nation’s top high school basketball programs under head coach Mike Jones. Being from the D.C. metropolitan area, Mason was the perfect fit.

“Initially, I didn’t want to move too far from home and when I visited Mason, it felt like a family environment,” Tate said. “My high school was all-boys and very tightly knit and family-oriented. When I came here I felt the same vibe and felt like they had my best interest in mind and that really won me over.”

While in high school, Tate, known around campus as Ike, played with and against some of the nation’s top college and pro players, either in AAU, high school or at camps, including Duke guard Nolan Smith, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley, Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon and more.

“It’s a great experience to be able to say that you played against some of the premier players in the NBA,” said Tate.

His strong basketball IQ, tenacious defense and strong work ethic have made him a great asset for the Patriots.

During Tate’s freshman year, the Patriots won the CAA championship and went on the NCAA tournament, falling to Notre Dame.

“That was a great experience, getting to go to Denver and all the press and media,” said Tate.

However, his favorite moment during his Mason basketball career was the 10-day team trip to Italy. This past summer, the Patriots played against European talent and were able to see some of Italy’s beautiful sights.

“Italy was one of my greatest moments here at Mason and the best ten days of my life,” said Tate. While overseas, the team bonded and became the cohesive unit they are today.

Coach Larranaga’s rooming policy allowed for everyone to get to know each other. Seniors would room with freshmen and juniors with sophomores, but at each stop, roommates would change. The trip effectively united the Patriots as teammates.

During his junior season, Tate started 23 games for the Patriots, who, at the time, had lost to Fairfield in the tournament. This year, in sixth man role off the bench, Tate feels like he is still a contributor but is not bitter.

“I’m playing better than I did last year, so I’m not mad that I’m not starting. I’m still part of this team just like everyone else. Coming off the bench, I feel like I can provide a spark and defensively, I’m kind of like a catalyst and lead by example on and off the court.”

In his spare time, Tate enjoys playing chess, golf and Call of Duty with the team. Tate is also a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Council on campus.

“It’s been a great ride and this year we’re playing great and we’re ending on a high note and that’s important to me for my senior year,” Tate said.

After graduation, Tate plans to play basketball professionally either in the states or overseas, after which he wants to either coach or be a sports agent.

After winning the CAA regular season title on Thursday night, one thing is for sure – Ike still has more time in his career to add to his legacy.