USA TODAY Sports player of the year: Kansas’ Frank Mason III – USA TODAY
USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach gives out her awards for player, coach and freshman of the year.
USA TODAY Sports
Kansas coach Bill Self knows a thing or two about history, and he means what he says when he says this: Frank Mason III’s jersey will someday hang from the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse, one of the most historic gymnasiums in the country that houses one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball.
Which means that, yes, Frank Mason’s four-year career at Kansas ranks among the all-time greats — and don’t think the Jayhawks faithful don’t realize that. You could tell by their thunderous applause throughout Mason’s Senior Night speech, which followed Kansas’s win against Oklahoma last week.
“Senior night at Kansas is already in and of itself an incredible experience, but for someone who’s developed into the type of player he’s become, and to go from an anonymous recruit to one of the great players to ever play at Kansas, the emotion poured out not only from Frank but from the 16,000-plus fans that were there,” said ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, who called the game. “KU fans are knowledgeable basketball fans, and they understand clearly what he’s meant to this program. Like, the one-and-done guys who pop through, like Joel Embiid and Josh Jackson, they’re certainly memorable players at Kansas, but for this kid to show up as an anonymous recruit, not highly thought of, and then to finish a career on senior night the way he did — it gives you goosebumps.
“The atmosphere was as electric as anything I’ve ever seen at Allen Fieldhouse in my 14 years at ESPN.”
What’s been particularly special to watch as Mason’s senior season has progressed is the consistency. He started the season with a 30-point performance against Indiana in Hawaii and a buzzer-beater win against Duke at Madison Square Garden — and barely has let up since. Mason has averaged 20.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, the best player on one of the best teams in the country.
Not only is Kansas in position to land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but with Mason at the helm the Jayhawks won their 13th consecutive Big 12 championship in a league with likely five NCAA tournament teams (and four others currently ranked in the USA TODAY Sports coaches poll) … by four games.
“He’s continuing a trend of four-year guys who have had brilliant careers and are getting recognized for it,” Fraschilla said. “You go back to last year and go back to Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine, and the kind of careers they had. In many ways, Frank has had as good a year as Buddy had a year ago but less spectacularly. … The most impressive thing about his season is not how much he’s improved over four years but how he’s started out his senior year brilliantly and has kept it up with great consistency. He’s very rarely had an off night over an entire season; even his off nights have turned out to be spectacular.”
Mason, who originally signed with Towson of the Colonial Athletic Association, found himself on the Jayhawks’ radar first when assistant coach Kurtis Townsend noticed him during the Adidas Fab 48 in the summer of 2012. Townsend had come to the game to recruit another player, but couldn’t take his eyes off of Mason.
But Mason was committed, and more importantly, signed, elsewhere — until a twist of fate led him toward Lawrence. Mason failed a government class his senior year of high school and did not qualify to go to Towson. He went to a prep school for a year and reopened his recruitment.
And, then, he landed at Kansas — where, four years later, teammates say he’s earned every inch of praise that’s headed his way this postseason.
“One hundred percent,” senior forward Landen Lucas said. “He’s shown it every night. Even his off nights have been great. To do what he’s done so far this season definitely deserves the recognition. I think we all agree on that and I hope that he gets (the recognition).”
Contributing: George Schroeder in Stillwater, Okla.
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