Frank Mason wants to take KU to Glendale
MARCH 2017 – Frank Mason was on hardly any major college program’s radar despite a standout career at Petersburg (Va.) High, where he scored 1,901 points and finished second in school history on the scoring charts behind Naismith Hall of Famer Moses Malone.
In fact, the 5-11 Kansas senior point guard committed to Towson University before attending Massanutten Military Academy in 2012-13. Four years later, the once overlooked Mason has emerged as arguably the best player in the country and one of the top players in KU history.
Mason saved his best season for last after earning All-Big 12 Second-Team honors the past two years. The Virginia native, who averaged 5.5 points as a freshman, 12.6 points his sophomore year and 12.9 points last season, has exploded during a breakout senior year averaging 20.3 points per game (No. 1 in Big 12). A two-time Big 12 Player of the Week, Mason also leads the league in three-point field goal percentage (51.2) while ranking fourth in assists (5.0), 10th in field goal percentage (49.2) and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0).
Mason started the season with a career-high 30 points against Indiana before scoring 21 points against No. 1 Duke in the second game, including hitting the game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds left. He’s kept rolling and starring ever since while posting a new career-best 32 points during a 92-89 overtime loss versus Iowa State on Feb. 4, where he made his first nine shots.
A finalist for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award, the Senior CLASS Award and the Wooden Award Late-Season Top-20, Mason was also 12-of-12 from the free throw line in a 73-68 victory over No. 2 Baylor on Feb. 1, marking the most free throws made without a miss by a KU player since Darnell Valentine in 1980.
He’s simply had the best year of any guard in coach Bill Self’s era, and at his current pace, will become the second player under Self to average at least 20 points per game with Wayne Simien posting 20.3 ppg in 2004-05. Mason is on pace to become the first player in Kansas and Big 12 history to average 20 points and five assists per game.
“Frank Mason …is having a season for the ages,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said.
Indeed, he is. It all started in the offseason shooting jump shot after jump shot, three-pointer after three-pointer, floater after floater, running sprints after sprints, lifting weights after weights. Mason was pained how last season ended in the Elite Eight losing to Villanova, and he is on a mission to make sure he is at his best this year to help lead the Jayhawks to the Final Four and a national championship.
“I think just hard work over the summer, believing in myself, confidence, things like that,” Mason said about his great strides in 2016-17. “I just have to do that moving forward.”
Self couldn’t be happier with Frank Mason, who was actually his fourth option on the recruiting trail.
“He’s grown from being a guy who we thought could impact our program and be a good player for us in time to, in my opinion, a guy who has an unbelievable chance to be a first-team All-American, so that shows you the growth,” Self said.
Frank Mason should be a first-team All-American, but he’s the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.
“I don’t think anybody has had a better year than Frank Mason,” Self said. “I’m biased, but he makes big plays, he makes hard shots … (and) on-the-ball defender at game point, he’s about as good as there is, too. So he does a lot of things to give a team a chance to win.”
Take Mason’s extreme effort in KU’s 74-71 victory at K-State on Feb. 6, where he saved a ball under KSU’s basket late in the game before jumping over press row and falling into the third row of the stands. Mason immediately got up, hopped on the press table and raced back onto the floor, where he stole a Wildcat pass and came charging downcourt.
It was the hustle play of the year for Kansas basketball.
“I think those plays define seasons,” Self said. “He loves to compete. I think he’s about as tough as any kid I’ve ever been around.
Jayhawk freshman guard Josh Jackson said, “I’ve never met a guy as small as him as tough as him.”
Frank Mason again showed his heart and toughness during a thrilling 84-80 overtime comeback triumph over No. 9 West Virginia on Feb. 13 at Allen Fieldhouse, a victory that showed volumes why KU will be such a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. Down 64-50 with 2:58 remaining and fans filing out of the Phog, Mason scored 11 of KU’s next 21 points in regulation, including the two game-tying free throws with 21 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Frank Mason scored four more points in OT for a game-high 24, including making 16 of 18 at the free throw line. He and junior guard Devonte’ Graham willed KU to victory.
“I think it is the most remarkable win I have ever been a part of,” Self said. “We have had some great ones here, but we have never come from 14 down with two-and-a-half left against the ninth-ranked team in the country. … They played every possession until the end.”
Just like the No. 3 Jayhawks (25-3) have done all season while winning their NCAA record-tying 13th straight Big 12 championship. Kansas is 10-2 in games decided by six points or less (8-1 in Big 12), making crunch-time plays with signature close wins over WVU, Duke, Kentucky, and two victories against top-five Baylor.
This is a veteran team led by Mason, Graham, senior center Landen Lucas and Jackson (he plays well beyond his years) that knows how to win in pressure situations. Self hopes that bodes well in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m not sure there’s a formula that’s right or wrong (regarding playing a lot of tight games as opposed to maybe being more fresh with convincing victories),” Self said, “(but) since all our games are close, I’ll take it that it will be good for us.”
Kansas seems poised with a great chance to advance to the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. After losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament two straight years before making the Elite Eight last season, KU has grown and matured and ready for that next step, just like the 2008 national championship team. After bowing in the tournament’s first round two consecutive seasons, the Jayhawks went to the Elite Eight in 2007 before winning it all in 2008.
KU will be a dangerous team in March Madness featuring a potent offense and three-point shooting team (8.8 three-point field goals per game is highest in school history) and playing a four-guard lineup for the first time in the Self era. They are not a great defensive squad. Opponents’ 41.7 shooting percentage is the highest under Self.
With a very thin frontcourt and going basically only seven deep with eighth and ninth men Mitch Lightfoot and Dwight Coleby, playing limited minutes, the Jayhawks must avoid serious foul trouble in the Big Dance. However, they found a way to persevere and beat West Virginia with three players fouling out (Carlton Bragg, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick).
Self knows KU will continue to play with that maximum effort during the NCAA Tournament.
“There’s nobody that competes harder than my guys,” Self said.
But here’s the big key as to why KU will be a favorite to make the Final Four and possibly cut down national championship nets. Kansas is virtually a lock to be a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional and play its first two games in Tulsa. Should they win both contests, the Jayhawks would then play the regional in Kansas City at Sprint Center, a home away from home. Kansas, which is 3-0 at Sprint Center this season heading into the Big 12 Tournament, is 34-6 all time at the venue since it opened in 2007. The crimson and blue fans will flock to Kansas City in March with great hopes of propelling their team to Glendale by being that pivotal Sixth Man.
As they have during the season and especially Big 12 play, expect KU to be in some March nail-biters. And expect Self to give the ball to Mason to make a play at game point. The fearless leader can break down a defense by himself and get to the rim and score or get fouled, or he can pull up like an assassin in an opponent’s face and make a three-pointer.
Frank Mason, who is 12th in KU history with 1,701 points and ninth with 520 assists (only the fourth Jayhawk to rank that high in both categories), had the competitiveness to make that game-winning jumper against Duke in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York, one of the biggest stages in basketball. But the former Towson commit will be on the biggest stage of all in the NCAA Tournament.
Mason is ready to make it happen. Not for himself, but for Kansas. The consummate team player, Mason isn’t interested in individual honors — he just wants to win the grandest prize in college hoops.
“I really don’t care about National Player of the Year,” he said. “If we had an award for National Team of the Year, then that’s what I care about. I just want to do what I can to help the team. We want to be No. 1 when it really matters as a team.”
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Article by David Garfield.