Bill Self’s 600 basketball campers chanted “MVP, MVP” as Frank Mason III hustled back on defense after hitting his fifth three-pointer in Wednesday’s 30-minute Red-Blue scrimmage in Horejsi Center.
The youngsters — and Jayhawk players past and present competing in the glorified pickup game — obviously were impressed by the effort of the 5-foot-11 junior point guard, who scored off jumpers and driving layups alike en route to 31 points in a 95-74 victory.
“When I played against somebody, I just knew he couldn’t guard me. I think it’s the same approach Frank is taking. He’s blowing by guys,” former KU standout Sherron Collins of the losing Blue team said of the Petersburg, Virginia, native.
“I feel like he’s fearless. He’s a bulldog. He goes in, has a lot of moves to the basket, is physical, likes contact. He has a lot of stuff. It’s a joy to see him keep growing,” Collins added.
KU coach Bill Self, who played Mason a team-leading 33.5 minutes a game last season (after 16.2 mpg his freshman year), has noticed a re-energized Mason during the first week of World University Games practices.
“Frank had a fabulous year last year. He may have gotten a little tired late. We rode him pretty hard during the season, especially when Devonté (Graham) got hurt (and missed six straight games),” Self said. “Frank has really improved. Frank is better now than he was. He has fresh legs now. You think he’s an athlete during the season. You see some of the things he’s doing now and you realize what a fabulous athlete he really is.”
Mason, who is a basketball workaholic, has played a lot of basketball since KU’s season-ending loss to Wichita State on March 22 in Omaha, Nebraska.
However, the bumps and bruises he sustained during an ultra-competitive 2014-15 season have long disappeared.
“I went back home two weeks, got to see family and friends, got to see my son (Amari),” Mason said of the only time he’s spent away from Lawrence following final exams. “I got in the gym a lot. Now I’m back here ready to get started.”
Mason, who was KU’s second-leading scorer at 12.6 ppg last season (off 44.1 percent shooting; 42.9 from three), had a team-leading 142 assists against 74 turnovers with a team-leading 50 steals.
Nonetheless he feels he can do more.
“Everything,” Mason said, asked what he’s been working on. “Every part of my game, on the court, off the court being more of a vocal leader, being a better leader period, better teammate. You can always work on everything to get better,” he added.
He believes the Jayhawks will gain a lot from playing in the World University Games, July 3-14 in Gwangju, South Korea.
“We’re going to enjoy practice and try to win the tournament, that’s the goal,” Mason said. “Every game we play we want to win, no matter if it doesn’t count against our record or anything. Every game we play we want to get better moving forward. It will give us a great opportunity to be successful moving into the next season.”
Mason is somebody the Jayhawk players and coaches definitely respect.
“He’s our leader. He’s starting point guard for Kansas. You have to be a leader,” soph guard Devonté Graham said. “He leads by example. Guys feed off his energy. He does a great job of leading.”