Looking back at praise from Big 12 coaches for player of the year Frank Mason III
There was no surprise when Kansas senior point guard Frank Mason III was named the conference’s player of the year Sunday, a unanimous selection.
Mason is on pace to become the first player in conference history to average more than 20 points and five assists throughout a season. More than that, he’s helped the Jayhawks to their 13th-straight conference title and a No. 1 ranking in the country.
When Mason spoke during the preseason, he wasn’t predicting that he would end up as the nation’s top player — at least not publicly. But he knew he improved during the offseason and wanted to end his final collegiate season in a big way.
“I think a lot of different things: leadership skills, my mid-range game, my ball handing got better and defense,” Mason said of his offseason improvements during KU’s media day in October. “Just being more coachable and learning every day that I can to be the best player I can be and the best teammate that I can be.”
The Petersburg, Va., native, who averaged 12.9 points and 4.6 assists last year, started the season with a 30-point, nine-assist performance against Indiana in the season opener, then hit the game-winning shot a few days later against Duke in the Champions Classic.
After that, the former Towson commit never slowed down. He’s the first KU player to lead the Big 12 in scoring (20.5 points per game) since Wayne Simien in 2004-05.
“He can hurt you in so many different ways,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “He’s become such a great shooter. With a guy who is that quick who can also shoot it, if you step at him at all, he can go by you so strong. He’s got great instinct on finishing and getting his body into you. He just knows how to play. He’s a great competitor. Add all that together and that’s why he’s maybe the best player in the country.”
Kruger wasn’t the only coach to express his admiration for Mason throughout his senior campaign.
After scouting him on film, then trying to stop him in each game, all of the Big 12 coaches were impressed after watching Mason play:
Chris Beard, Texas Tech: “Great college player. Kid’s got better every year. Coach (Bill) Self and Norm (Roberts) and these guys get a lot of credit for great recruiting. But probably what goes without notice is how good of coaches they are. This is a place that has one-and-dones and those kind of things, but the bottom line is look at the four-year players, they get better. He’s a tough guard.”
Kruger, Oklahoma: “He’s terrific. Just an outstanding player. You know he’s a winner. He takes things on his shoulders. He makes teammates around him better. He makes big time plays in tough parts of games. Just an outstanding player…. There’s a lot of good guards in the country, but in terms of competitiveness and overall leadership and fight, you know I think he might be as good as any of ‘em.”
Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State: “Everyone saw why they’re the No. 1 team in the country and why they have two Wooden Award finalists and, in my opinion without question, the national player of the year in Frank Mason.”
Bruce Weber, Kansas State: “If you have guys like Frank Mason, to heck with it. Spread people out, space them and give him the ball. He makes the decision. He is shooting (49 percent) from three. You don’t have to do crazy things.”
Jamie Dixon, TCU: “He would have been a great player at Towson because he would have got really coached, but he came to this place and he got really, really coached. He has gotten better every time, every year. That’s a bad combination for opponents in the Big 12 — a good player who has gotten better each year.”
Steve Prohm, Iowa State: “I love his game. He's an A to B guy, he doesn't mess around with the ball. He can really, really get downhill…. He's so good at drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line. Obviously, he's had an exceptional career here. Our team; Monte (Morris), myself, everyone, obviously has a lot of respect for him and what he's been able to do.”
Mason finished his conference season in spectacular fashion with a 27-point, nine-assist, eight-rebound performance in KU’s road win over Oklahoma State.
Of course, Mason's transformation didn't happen overnight. Matt Tait wrote a story about his relentless work ethic in the weight room with Andrea Hudy.
Once the season arrived, there was no question that he was ready to embrace his final season suiting up for the Jayhawks.
“I think about the end of my career every day,” Mason said in the preseason media day. “It’s a really sad time that I think about it. I’m not really ready for it to end."