By now, you all know the story of former Kansas standout Frank Mason III.
From how his rough upbringing to his failed government class to that showcase in Vegas where assistant coach Kurtis Townsend first saw him and, of course, through his incredible KU career that left him in the Top 10 on KU's all-time scoring list and was capped by the point guard doing something no other Jayhawk in history had done — sweeping the national player of the year honors during the 2016-17 season.
Although stoic by nature, Mason has more personality than most realize and, throughout his sensational senior season, was able to show more and more of that as the weeks went on.
You also know the special relationship that exists between KU coach Bill Self and Mason. From player-coach to father-figure and friend, the two developed a unique bond during the past four years that at times moved each to tears and will no doubt last a lifetime.
So there's not a whole lot of new information about the Mason-Self dynamic that can be learned. I'm sure there are stories for days that could be told but probably won't be. At least not publicly. And I'm sure each guy remembers the journey a little differently, mostly thanks to the differing perspectives, one of a college-aged basketball player doing everything in his power to stay on the climb and the other of a wildly successful coach 30 years his senior.
But there's something cool about all of that — the early years, the Kansas years, the wins, the relationship with coach — in this Players' Tribune article penned by Mason and released Thursday.
Some of these are short but Mason goes deep in this one. He takes you all the way back to his youth and the good and the bad of all of it. He talks Kansas and Self and being a father and the NBA, but more than anything his story, in his words, titled, "Goodbye, Kansas," shows, in a short and sweet, 1,500-word manner the maturation process and incredible road Mason has traveled these past few years.
"It didn’t end how I wanted — after the Oregon loss, I tweeted that it felt like my life was over—and, man, it’s still hard to shake that feeling of disappointment. Sitting back in the locker room, where guys were crying and feeling terrible, I had no choice but to focus on the positives and on what’s next. Graduation. The opportunity to give my son a better life than I had growing up. I thought about how far I’d come, from being a guy who couldn’t qualify to play at Towson to the Wooden National Player of the Year at one of the best programs in the country."
Now that enough time has passed — for most — between the rough ending to another amazing season of Kansas basketball and today, it’s time to take a quick look back at what we learned about the KU program during the 2016-17 season.
These things we already knew: Kansas is king of the Big 12 Conference; the Jayhawks are perennial national title contenders; Bill Self is one heck of a basketball coach.
So no surprises there.
But what about the things that were a little surprising, or at least proved to be realities that we don’t necessarily see every season at Kansas?
There were a few of those, too.
Here’s a look:
1. Bill Self is even better than you thought
Anyone who has followed Kansas basketball closely over the years — and even many who haven’t — knows what Bill Self basketball looks like. Inside-out, playing through big men, preferably with a big time shot blocker and a bunch of long and athletic guards who are fast and interchangeable. With a roster that lacked in some of those areas, Self adjusted to the four-guard lineup (more on that in the coming days as we’ll take one last look back at how that whole thing came to be) and watched the Jayhawks play a fast and exciting brand of basketball that made them a nightmare to match-up with throughout most of the season. Forget the X’s and O’s aspect of it, the bottom line about the 2016-17 season was that it proved further to what end Self will go to ensure his team is successful. There's a reason the guy's a Hall of Famer now. Actually, there are a bunch of reasons. Doing what he did with his roster and rotation in 2016-17 certainly qualifies as one of them.
2. We saw the true value of program guys
Imagine for a second where last year’s team would’ve been without Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas. Sure, maybe some other player or two would’ve come along and filled their spots, but would they have done it so well? Doubtful. And one of the biggest reasons for Mason and Lucas’ success was their experience. The two had been through so much during their four and five years in Lawrence and seen just about everything that they operated with a certain sense of calm. That experience also produced a great deal of confidence in both players, who often stood tallest against the toughest challenges. One-and-done and early-entry prospects are exciting and entertaining and, like it or not, probably will be the future of the sport for a long time. But that fact makes players like Mason and Lucas and seasons like the ones they had all the more special when they happen.
3. One-and-dones are worth it
Speaking of one-and-dones, KU fans have been left wanting more from recent freshmen for quite some time now but they finally got their payoff. Josh Jackson was sensational in just about every aspect of the game throughout the 2016-17 season and got better each month. Imagine if it were called May Madness instead of March Madness. Jackson would be a monster by now. And he probably is anyway. That’s why he’ll be a Top 3 pick in the NBA Draft next month and also why you take guys like him, year after year, class after class. I’m not sure the idea of loading up with one-and-dones like they do at Kentucky would ever work at Kansas. It doesn’t fit Self, it doesn’t fit the fan base and, as mentioned above, there’s legitimate value in program guys who carry a little veteran moxie with them. But taking one or two every year is absolutely worth considering and Jackson is the reason why. Even if you have to put four or five years of effort into recruiting them to get that nine months of time with them in your program, it can be worth it. They don’t all turn out like Cliff Alexander, Cheick Diallo and Josh Selby. It may be a while before KU has another freshman like Jackson. Heck, it may never happen again. The guy was a special player. But you can bet that Self and company will keep going after ’em and now you’ve seen up-close-and-personal why it’s worth it.
4. That Big 12 title streak really is pretty cool
It’s celebrated and stressed over every year by the fans and I haven’t met one yet who is tired of adding to their T-Shirt collection at the end of another Big 12 season. But because it has been so long since someone other than Kansas won the Big 12, it does get taken for granted a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, each February or March, when another title is clinched, the celebration is cool. But this one, which tied the UCLA dynasty at 13 in a row, carried with it a little more of that special feeling. And understandably so. Year 10 was cool because it was double-digits. Years 1-5 were cool because the streak was just forming. And by Years 11 and 12 the whole thing became a feat we all just sort of marveled over. But those middle years, Year 7, Year 9, those sort of had that, “Oh, cool, they did it again” vibe to them and a little less euphoria and pride. Not this one. Tying UCLA was big. Passing the Bruins next season, should KU be fortunate enough to do so will be even bigger. And I really thought that fact was palpable throughout the 2016-17 Big 12 race.
5. The game is changing
Remember that four-guard lineup talk from No. 1? Back to that for a second. The game of basketball is changing and it’s starting to filter down to the college game in a big way. Small ball, quick guards, excellent shooters. All are becoming more and more important in the modern game. Look no further than the upcoming NBA Draft for proof, as five of the Top 10 projected picks are 6-foot-6 or smaller and two more, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum, stand 6-8 and have a more perimeter-oriented flavor to their game. That means seven of the Top 10 picks in this year’s draft could very well be guys who are the poster boys for the modern game. Heck, even Florida State big man Jonathan Isaac, who stands 6-11, likes to play and looks incredibly comfortable on the perimeter. These things tend to go in cycles, so I’m not saying the game has changed forever. But thanks to the recent success enjoyed by the Golden State Warriors, teams at all levels have started to tweak how they play, looking to take advantage of tempo, quickness and the 3-point shot more than ever. Kansas is one of them and it worked tremendously well for the Jayhawks in 2016-17. The question now is where do things go from here?
His trophy-hauling days may be behind him — for now — but the Frank Mason III jersey retirement circuit is just heating up.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self last season said it merely would be a matter of time before KU’s national player of the year had his number hanging alongside some of the greatest players in KU history in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.
But the Massanutten Military Academy, where Mason played a year of prep school in 2012-13 before coming to Kansas, already has gotten in on the act.
Last Friday, Mason returned to Woodstock, Va., a small town 175 miles northwest of his native Petersburg, Va., for a jersey retirement ceremony.
“It’s a great experience to come back here,” Mason told a WTVR reporter following the event. “So many great things happened over the years for me and this is a place I always try to come back to. I’m very blessed. I used to get emotional about it, but now that I look back on it, it helped me to be more responsible and become more of a man.”
Already hanging high on the wall of the school’s gymnasium was a giant banner of Mason, wearing his white No. 0 Kansas uniform taking a jump shot during a game. Below the photo read: Frank Mason – 2013 Massanutten Alum, 2017 Wooden Player of the Year, 2017 Naismith Player of the Year, 2017 AP Player of the Year.
Those, of course, were the three most prestigious of the 10 national player of the year honors that Mason won following the 2016-17 season in which he led Kansas to a 31-5 record, a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and an Elite Eight appearance while becoming the first player in Big 12 history to finish a season averaging 20-plus points and 5-plus assists per game.
According to a report from WTVR, Massanutten basketball coach Chad Meyers called Mason “the greatest thing to happen to Massanutten basketball,” and Mason and his parents were on hand for a small ceremony in the school’s gym that honored Mason with the jersey retirement, complete with his framed, white, No. 3 Massanutten jersey presented to him.
Mason spoke the crowd, signed autographs and enjoyed a short video recap of his sensational senior season.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman on Wednesday revealed five possible destinations for former Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr., who decided after two seasons as a Jayhawk to leave Lawrence during the offseason.
According to Goodman and several other reports, Bragg is considering Arizona State, Cincinnati, Illinois, North Carolina State and Xavier.
Reports last week indicated that there might be mutual interest between Ohio State and Bragg, but, at least as of now, the Buckeyes do not appear to be in the running for the former McDonald’s All-American who hails from Cleveland.
Bragg’s departure was one of the surprise storylines of the 2016-17 season, as many had him pegged as a potential early-entry NBA prospect and expected him to have a breakout season while sliding into the role vacated by departing senior Perry Ellis. It never happened, though, and Bragg’s struggles on the floor carried over to his personal life, where he twice was suspended by Bill Self for off-the-court issues.
Bragg averaged just 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game.
It does not appear that things will move too quickly here, with Bragg likely to take at least a few visits before deciding on his next school. That certainly could change with one visit, but either way it seems likely that Bragg will make a decision in time to report to his new program in time for summer workouts.
With Josh Jackson announcing his inevitable decision to turn pro on Monday, it seems like a good time to take a quick look back at the Detroit native’s short but oh-so-sweet Kansas career.
In one year, Jackson cemented himself in KU history by sticking his name all over the freshman record book.
He set the KU freshman record for double-doubles in a single season (13), shots made (220) and shots attempted (429) and also tied Danny Manning for second among all KU freshmen with 258 rebounds.
His 572 points were the third most in KU freshman history, 25 points behind Andrew Wiggins’ record, and his 16.3 points-per-game averaged ranks second to Wiggins’ mark of 17.1.
Jackson also attempted the second most free throws in a single season by a freshman (173) and, believe it or not, made the third most free throws (98). His 1,077 minutes played were the fourth most in KU history by a freshman and his 55 steals put him fifth on KU’s all-time freshman list.
In short, Jackson, as you all surely saw with your own eyes, was nothing shy of remarkable during his lone season of college basketball, getting better month after month and week after week and providing Kansas with an incredible advantage most nights out.
His presence in the uniform and on the floor will be missed by the program and the fans, who finally got to see a one-and-done Jayhawk live up to the expectations they have for these types of players.
Before Jackson’s name merely becomes a part of the record books, let’s take one look back at some of his best moments at Kansas, followed by a few highlight videos that, after watching them, reminded me just how good he was and how lucky we were to get to see him play, up close and personal, 36 times last season.
Jackson is destined for big things in the NBA and it should fun to watch how his career unfolds, starting with this June’s draft and the unveiling of what NBA city he’s headed to next.
Although there were dozens of memorable Josh Jackson moments this season, from monster dunks to sweet dimes and everything in between, here are 10 that stood out to me as both big time highlights and moments or plays that fully encapsulate the kind of player Jackson is.
10 – Baseline, under-the-basket scoop shot vs. UC Davis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Jackson filled the highlight reel in his first ever NCAA tourney game, finishing with a number of athletic plays on both ends of the floor and filling up the stat sheet. For my money, though, it was this shot that stood out above all of them. Midway through the game, Jackson drove right and was funneled to the baseline by the Davis defender. Undeterred, he kept going through the lane and kissed a reverse layup off the glass with reverse english. Dr. J it was not, but it was close, just as athletic and a good look at just how many tricks this guy had in his repertoire.
9 – Step-back 3 over Miles Bridges in NCAA Tournament second round. Another game filled with Jackson highlights — most of them at his good buddy Bridges’ expense — this smooth 3-pointer gave KU a 60-53 with 11 minutes to play and demonstrated just how confident Jackson had become in his 3-point shot. After catching it with his back to the basket outside of the paint, Jackson used his dribble to face up and get Bridges on his heels, took one quick jab step and then a long hop back behind line for 3-pointer right in front of KU bench.
8 – One-handed, transition bounce pass to Svi in traffic vs. Long Beach State. Often called the best passer on the team, Jackson showed it time and time again, finding the open man and setting up teammates inside for easy buckets. None of his passes were as impressive as this one, though, when he found Svi streaking to the rim just a couple of steps past half-court and, in one motion, picked up his dribble with his right hand and fired a pass from right to left between two guys and around another that hit Svi in stride for the layup.
7 – Vicious alley-oop dunk vs TCU at home. I’ll always remember this one because of Jackson’s explanation of it. Flying down the floor with Frank Mason III in a two-on-one fastbreak, Jackson rose high and flushed it with force like he had done so many times this season. This one though, was a little different. He went up and caught it with two hands and looked like he was going to flush it quickly without making much fuss. But in mid air he decided to turn it into a one-handed hammer because, as he said, he wanted to give the fans a little show. Oh to be able to do things like that on the basketball court.
6 – Deep 3-pointer to close the 1st half at Baylor. Not exactly known for his outside shot, Jackson, who shot well above 40 percent from 3-point range in conference play, improved so much in that area throughout the season and hit some big ones along the way. Few were as big as this one against Baylor that just beat the buzzer and helped pull the Jayhawks within six points at the break instead of being down nine.
5 – Game-winning free throw at Texas Tech. A day after his 20th birthday and on an afternoon when he scored a career-high 31 points, it was a Jackson free throw in the final seconds of a tough road win at Texas Tech that stole the headlines. Just a 57 percent shooter from the free throw line all season, Jackson stepped up big time in this moment, knocking down the second of two free throws with 2.8 seconds to play to break a tie and give Kansas the win.
4 – Back-to-back 3-pointers to open 2nd half at Kentucky. After trailing by double digits in the first half in hostile Rupp Arena, the Jayhawks hung tough and went to the locker room down just five at the break. That in itself gave Kansas a bit of momentum, but the fact that the Kentucky lead was gone altogether one minute into the second half was what really propelled the Jayhawks to victory. And Josh Jackson, almost single-handedly was to thank for that. He buried a couple of 3-pointers, one from the left wing 15 seconds into the half and the other from the right wing 45 seconds later.
3 – Late dunk at Baylor. Jackson actually had four monster dunks in this tough road win, but the most critical came in the final two minutes on a sweet drive and dish by Mason, who found Jackson slipping behind Baylor 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil. Jackson did the rest, destroying the rim with one hand to pull KU within two in yet another dramatic, late-game comeback that delivered a tough road victory.
2 – Steal and flush at Kentucky that kept Kansas in it. Jackson had a similar play against Duke in New York City — proving that he likes the big stage just a little — but in this one he flashed his defensive effort, intensity and motor to pick up some easy points for Kansas. After jumping in front of a D’Aaron Fox pass intended for Derek Willis, Jackson cruised in for the uncontested, right-handed hammer jam to pull KU within eight instead of falling behind by 12 or 13.
1 – One-handed exclamation point vs. Michigan State. It was a game that meant a lot to him on a personal level and he showed it. Playing brilliantly all over the floor in KU’s second-round NCAA Tournament victory over the Spartans, Jackson capped his monster night with a come-fly-with-me dunk down the heart of the lane that served as the exclamation point on KU’s second victory in Tulsa. After catching a pass from a scrambling Lagerald Vick at top of the key, Jackson gave a quick hesitation move to make old pal Miles Bridges think jumper, and then blew by Bridges and elevated over everyone to send it in and seal the KU victory.
• NCAA Tournament 2017
• KU at Kentucky
• General Jackson highlights from 2016-17 season
I get it. I really do. And I’m right there with you. Sort of.
The idea of Kansas freshman Josh Jackson returning for his sophomore season is wonderful to think about. But it’s a total waste of time and, therefore, is hazardous to the health of Kansas basketball fans.
Like so many one-and-done Jayhawks before him, I’d love nothing more than to see Jackson return so we can watch a player of his ability, up close and personal, for another year.
But it’s not happening.
Not might. Not maybe he’ll be the guy who does it differently. Not Lloyd Christmas’ “So you’re telling me there’s a chance” line. Just not.
I’m sure most people know this. And I’m sure you all know the reasons why, so I won’t waste your time or mine rehashing that here. Jackson’s lifelong dream has been to play in the NBA and he’s about to be one of the top players picked in the draft. Easy decision.
With that said, I can’t blame those KU fans who do know it but are such die-hard Jayhawks that they can’t help but wish for even the longest of long shots to come through. That’s part of what being a fan is all about. As long as you can handle it when the bubble bursts.
In a move that has shocked all kinds of college basketball analysts, Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges, a likely lottery pick himself, appears to be returning for his sophomore year. He’ll make an announcement at Michigan State’s arena tonight, and, much like Roy Williams’ announcement the first time he was courted by North Carolina, you generally don’t get a bunch of people together to give them bad news.
So the likely assumption is that Bridges is staying. Good for him. He’s got Top 3 potential and could — could — help himself a little by returning for a second season in East Lansing.
His return, if that’s what’s happening, will be great for college basketball and, obviously, even greater for Tom Izzo and the Spartans.
Because Bridges and Jackson grew up together and come from the same environment, many KU fans have spun the Bridges news into having some kind of impact on Jackson’s decision.
I also get that. But I don’t really see it changing anything for the Big 12 freshman of the year.
Let me put it this way: Before I heard about Bridges, I thought there was a 0.0 percent chance that Jackson would return to Kansas. Now that I know about Bridges’ upcoming announcement, I’ve moved my thinking about a possible Jackson return to 0.5 percent. That’s still less than 1 percent and every inch of my brain believes Jackson is leaving.
And good for him. He’s ready. He’ll be an incredible pro and I think he’ll wind up being even better in the NBA than Andrew Wiggins already is. He may never be the scorer that Wiggins is — although I wouldn’t rule it out — but I think he’ll be a much, much better all-around player and he’ll be in position to make a big time impact on whatever team is lucky enough to land him as soon as next season.
For the selfish side of getting to cover and watch Jackson play for one more season, and for the incredible story side of covering the guy who, like Tim Duncan 20 years ago, would be turning down an opportunity to be a Top 3 pick and all of that money for another season of college basketball, I’d love for Jackson to return.
But I haven’t spent even a total of one minute thinking it was going to happen and I don’t think those close to him have either. Remember, KU coach Bill Self has said repeatedly, both recently and as far back as last fall, that Jackson's a one-year guy and that he's not holding his breath for him to return. That's not a coach guarding his heart. That's a coach being realistic.
Bridges news or not, Jackson’s turning pro and the delay in his announcement, which has contributed to the sliver of hope that KU fans still have for him to shock the world, is merely circumstantial. He’s in no hurry. Nor does he need to be. He’ll announce it when he’s ready, just like he’ll be turning pro when he’s ready.
The news last night came from the opportunity to talk to Devonte’ Graham for the first time since he announced on Twitter last Sunday that he was returning for his senior season.
So that’s what I wrote. But there were plenty of moments from last night’s Kansas basketball banquet that were more of the light-hearted variety and produced some memorable laughs and good one-liners.
KU coach Bill Self, not surprisingly, was the source of several of those and here’s a quick recap of some of the highlights.
• As the featured speaker of the event, Self took the stage after the season highlight video had finished. He was introduced as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and received a standing ovation when he went to grab the mic. His response? “I appreciate that deeply,” he said. “But I know it was a long video and everybody just needed to stretch.”
• In talking about strength coach Andrea Hudy, who has worked wonders with dozens of Jayhawks during her time at Kansas, Self referenced Devonte’ Graham and his tendency to flex after big plays, be them by him or a teammate. Self’s jab? “You need to get in the weight room if you’re gonna do that,” he joked.
• And then there was Josh Jackson, the Big 12 freshman of the year and second-team All-American whom Self marveled about for his strong season and steady growth and improvement. “I don’t tell our guys very often how good they are,” Self began. “But do you guys realize how good Josh Jackson is? Danny was a really good player here and he averaged 14 as a freshman. (Andrew Wiggins) was a really good player here and averaged a little bit more, he averaged 17 and Josh averaged 16.5. But Josh came in here and this dude shot 44 percent in league play from 3. He has unbelievable vision. And we asked him to guard (Purdue big man) Caleb Swanigan. And what’d he do? He locked him up. That’s just who he is. So competitive. And to see him grow as the season went on was so fun to watch.” Then, never missing an opportunity to take a shot at former Jayhawk and current KU broadcaster Greg Gurley, Self jokingly said to Jackson, “You passed Greg Gurley in freshman scoring, which was kind of a goal of ours...... in Game 1.” Naturally, the crowd of more than 600 on hand cracked up at that line, Gurley included. Looking back, it actually took Jackson four games before he passed Gurley’s freshman output of 47 points, but the point still stands.
• Scott “Scooter” Ward was in attendance at Tuesday’s banquet and Self said KU’s academic counselor was, “close to being 100 percent and back at work with us.... One wasn’t enough, he had to have two torn aortas to prove how tough he was, as if we didn’t know that already.”
• After going through the roster, player by player, with a funny story, memorable moment or both about each guy, Self got to the seniors and explained how the 2016-17 KU basketball team had a solid trio of senior leaders. “They say your team is only as good as your seniors allow ‘em to be and we had three studs as seniors,” Self began. “One of ’em, obviously, his mother wished he’d play a heck of a lot more,” Self grumbled. “But he did have his shining moment in the NCAA Tournament.” That senior, of course, was Self’s son, Tyler.
• There were, as you know, a couple of players on the roster who did not play this season, in transfers Sam Cunliffe (Arizona State) and Malik Newman (Mississippi State), and Self addressed both of them while sounding optimistic and excited about their potential for the future. “Sam Cunliffe is as good a athlete as we have in our gym,” Self began. “He won’t be eligible until next Christmas, but, Sam, you’ve got a huge responsibility ahead of you to work like the guys before you to put yourself in a position to help win trophies like this. And then one other transfer, Malik Newman, you know, I’ll be disappointed if Malik’s not an all-league or All-American player next year. I mean, he’s talented. He’s good. And these guys played such a huge role in any success we had this year as far as competing and pushing guys and making ’em better.” Self added: “To think that you’ve got Udoka (Azubuike) and Sam and Malik sitting out, that brings me so much excitement about what’s getting ready to happen next year with our program.”
• And then there was Frank Mason III, whose national player of the year trophies sparkled on the stage and ferocious competitive spirit served as one of the themes of the night. Self became emotional and occasionally had to fight back tears when talking about Mason to close the banquet. I can’t remember ever seeing that. Self is not a guy who is easily moved to emotion and to see it happen while he was talking about the player that he has called before the toughest player and best guard he’s ever coached. “You always want good things to happen to good people,” Self began, with his voice cracking toward the end of that sentence. “I think we all wanted Frank to win these awards, but it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. What he’s given us goes way beyond an award or awards. He’s just so damn tough and he’s so competitive and he has done as much for our culture as anybody that we’ve ever been around. I’m not gonna sit here and say that Frank’s the best player to ever play at Kansas. No offense, Frank; you’re not. I know everybody’s kissed your tail and said you’re the greatest, but, nah, nah. Wilt played at Kansas. To just think about the consistency and everything.... to think about the break we got. Thank God for that government teacher.”
• Before giving Mason the team MVP award known as the Danny Manning “Mr. Jayhawk” Award, Self also shared a story about Mason’s stubborn nature. “You can’t tell him anything at all without him thinking he knows better,” Self said. “He’s having one of his practices that he was maybe a little moody, a little stubborn and I said, ‘Frank, you don’t get it. If you would just, basically, pull your head out, your name’s gonna live up in the rafters forever. Because you’re gonna be Big 12 player of the year.’ Little did we all know, he was the best player in our league, but he was the best player in the United States, and, Frank, I appreciate everything you’ve done.”
Kansas senior Frank Mason III is in Los Angeles today for the annual ceremony that announces the Wooden Award winner (7 p.m. on ESPN2).
Given the fact that Mason already has swept nine of nine national player of the year awards in the past few weeks and the regularity with which the Naismith and Associated Press players of the year also have won the Wooden (18 of the past 20 seasons), it seems likely that Mason has one more acceptance speech to make.
With that, his Kansas career will officially be over, when the walk to accept the Wooden Award — should he win it — will mark the final time that Mason represents KU on a national stage.
Sure there will be other times that Mason will be mentioned as “that stud from Kansas,” and he always will be a Jayhawk. But, from tomorrow on, Frank Mason will be representing himself, working his butt off morning, noon and night to impress pro scouts and become an NBA player.
For a guy who was all about the team during his four-year Kansas career, ending with so many individual moments is not the way he pictured it. But he is deserving and it’s for more than just the work he put in or the numbers he put up.
See, in the middle of all of that blood, sweat and tears, between the monster games and memorable moments, Mason actually made it a point to soak all of this up. And that was cool to see.
I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I knew that Frank Mason III was going to have a national player of the year kind of season. Heck, before the year began, if you would’ve told me that Kansas would have one player sweep the national player of the year awards, I probably would’ve made Mason my third guess, behind Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham.
My bad. And, boy am I glad.
Watching Mason do his thing from courtside all season long, from Honolulu to New York City and the Big 12 backyards to the NCAA Tournament, was an absolute pleasure.
KU, as you know, tends to bring in the best of the best and puts players on the floor that have incredible skills and talent. From Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to Josh Jackson this year and dozens of others in the past decade, I’ve enjoyed covering them all and have been wowed by their wizardry on the basketball court.
But I’m not sure I’ve appreciated anyone quite the way I appreciated Mason this season. Maybe it was because he was so consistent and so solid from start to finish. Maybe it was because, no matter what the night or who the opponent, I almost always was amazed when I looked down at his final line and saw huge totals in nearly every category. Offensive efficiency at its finest, right there.
But, again, it also was about more than basketball. My appreciation for Mason’s season grew from week to week in large part because I could tell, in just about every way, how much it meant to him. That’s cool. That’s something I’ll always remember.
I first sensed there was something different about Mason early in the season, when his answers to questions after a number of non-conference games were more engaging and even longer than in years past. Instead of being the quiet guy who didn’t like to say much, Mason spoke up and spoke for the team the way real leaders do.
But it wasn’t just the way Mason responded to questions or handled interviews that put Mason’s monster season on my radar.
In Honolulu, Mason openly invited Journal-World photographer Nick Krug into a Facebook Live session with him on the beach when Nick was trying to get a few shots of the team relaxing in paradise.
Later, at the team’s annual holiday shopping session in late December, Mason jumped at the opportunity to talk to the couple of media members there, making sure that a KU basketball official captured the moment on his cell phone, presumably for some kind of digital scrapbook of his last go ’round as a Jayhawk.
And, again, toward the end of the regular season, as I interviewed Mason while walking with him out of the locker room and down the halls toward the weight room, I caught a quick glimpse of him capturing the whole thing on Snap Chat.
These moments, and many others like them I’m sure, as much as the clutch 3-pointers, ridiculous finishes in traffic or dagger jumpers that buried teams all season, were a huge part of Frank Mason’s memorable senior year. And it was fun to see him embrace them instead of carrying a too-cool-for-school attitude into his final season in Lawrence.
What he did on the floor made him an All-American and led to all of that hardware he collected during the past few weeks.
But what he did off of it, made those words he uttered on Senior Night ring true. “If I had the chance to play four more years here, I swear I would,” he said.
Frank Mason clearly will miss Kansas. But not nearly as much as Kansas will miss him.
With March Madness now behind us — good, bad or indifferent, it always goes so fast — the folks at CBS are starting to roll out some of their look-back content that covers everything from spectacular plays and buzzer-beating shots to big time dunks and monster blocks.
These are always fun to watch because, when you're in the middle of the madness you become fixated on looking ahead and worrying about what's next — with your bracket, your favorite team or the team(s) you cover — that you sometimes forget some of the most amazing plays and moments that made the first couple of rounds.
Kansas certainly had its share of those moments in this tournament, as the Jayhawks rolled through the first three rounds by a combined 90 points before falling to Oregon in the Elite Eight. Naturally, that Elite Eight loss has received most of the attention in the past week. And understandably so. It's far more common to look back and try to figure out what went wrong or what could've been done differently in these circumstances than it is to look back and celebrate what went right.
For this year's Jayhawks, what went right was a lot and this video features just a few of those moments.
In all, there are six dunks from KU games in this highlight video, three by Jayhawks and two by KU opponents.
The first two come in the 5:15-5:45 range from Josh Jackson, the third, is Jackson's exclamation point against Michigan State in the second round at the 8:22 mark and the fourth, as you probably guessed, is that 360 show stopper from Lagerald Vick against Purdue in the Sweet 16.
Fast forward (and rewind) to those dunks or watch the whole thing for a little trip down memory lane.
There was no questioning how big the moment was when it happened a couple of weeks ago.
But I’m not sure anyone who watched, celebrated or reacted to Tyler Self’s 3-pointer to give the Jayhawks 100 points in a first-round win over UC Davis in this year’s NCAA Tournament thought the shot would become a part of college basketball history.
Sure, it would always mean something to Tyler, his teammates and even KU coach Bill Self, the proud dad who cracked a smile at about the same time Frank Mason III was hopping onto Svi Mykhailiuk’s back. But for the shot — a rhythm 3-pointer from the left wing — to mean much outside of Kansas seemed unlikely.
And then One Shining Moment happened following Monday’s national title game — won by North Carolina — and there, about midway through (1:09 mark), was Tyler Self stroking a jumper and landing a prominent place in many college basketball fans’ favorite moment of the season.
The moment even featured audio from the play-by-play call and a follow-up shot of Self on the bench.
Someday, years from now, when someone puts all these One Shining Moment montages together or looks back on the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Tyler Self will be a part of that memory.
Mason, the nine-time national player of the year (and counting), also made a brief appearance early in this year’s One Shining Moment recap (right around the 23-second mark), and junior guard Devonte' Graham was featured during the heartbeat portion (1:33 in), but there’s no doubt that the highlight for the Jayhawks was Tyler Self’s shot. I’m sure that shocked Tyler and I’m sure Mason loved it all over again just like he did the first time.
OK, maybe he didn’t hop on Mykhailiuk’s back, but you get the point.
On to the 2017-18 season we go...