Kansas’ Frank Mason III was the most decorated player in college basketball this season. He was the Big 12 Player of the Year. He was a First Team All-American. He was the Associated Press Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year and USA Today Player of the Year.
He won the Bob Cousy Award, an award handed out by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for the top point guard in the nation. The United States Basketball Writers Association awarded him the Oscar Robertson trophy, which is given to the most outstanding college basketball player. The National Association of Basketball Coaches, which is made up of college basketball coaches, selected him as their Player of the Year.
He won the prestigious John R. Wooden award given to the college basketball player who exhibits the late coach’s five key ingredients to a successful player: defense, dribbling, passing, rebounding and shooting.
However, Mason III is a college senior, which can have a significant negative impact on a college player’s draft stock.
Nevertheless, this is the path he always knew he was destined for. Mason III never looked at himself as being a player who would leave school early for the NBA.
“Going into college I already had my mind set on being in school for four years,” Mason III told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine last week. “I already knew what I had planned and that was to get my degree.”
When it comes to the NBA Draft, there is an increasing trend of teams using their first-round picks on project type players. That is, players who stayed for only one year of college, maybe two at the most, before jumping to the league. Many of them need a few years of seasoning before being ready to contribute meaningful minutes at the next level.
College seniors, such as Mason III, seem to get more looks from NBA teams in the second round, if at all. Draft Express currently projects that Mason III will go 54th in the Draft. That’s awfully low for someone who was perhaps the top player in the nation this past season.
Being doubted is nothing new to Mason III however. It’s something he’s gotten used to over the years.
“Ever since high school I didn’t get the respect I deserved, but I never really paid attention to that,” Mason III said. “I always knew what I was capable of who I was.”
In each of the last two drafts, there’s been a college senior taken in the second round who has defied expectations and outperformed many first-round selections the way Mason III hopes to. There was Norman Powell of the Toronto Raptors in 2015 and Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2016.
Both players emerged in their rookie seasons as key pieces to playoff teams, with Brogdon being one of the top contenders for this season’s Rookie of the Year award. Interestingly enough, the Bucks were the first team that Mason III scheduled a workout with. They’re a team Mason III could see himself fitting in with right away.
“I think they have a great program over there, a great coach in Coach Kidd, I think they’re doing some wonderful things,” Mason III said. “They have a lot of young talent over there, and great players that’s rising up.”
Mason’s senior season numbers were undoubtedly impressive. He averaged 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 47.1 percent from three-point range.
In the NCAA Tournament, he elevated his game to the tune of 22.3 points 4.5 rebounds and six assists on 54.1 percent shooting. It would be tough to find an underclassman with numbers better than those.
But despite it all, Mason III does not harbor any animosity towards the younger prospects. Being at Kansas for four years, Mason III has seen multiple teammates leave school early and get drafted and he’s supported each of them.
“I think about what’s best for them and their family,” Mason III said. “I support them with whatever decision they decide to make.”
What that said, however, Mason III does believe that there are some key factors that separate him from some of the underclassmen. Factors that should not go unnoticed when it comes to draft night.
“I would say strength, a lot more knowledge of the game, that’s basically it,” Mason III said.
As the Draft approaches and his dream of playing in the NBA gets closer to becoming a reality, Mason understands that where he is selected is not something that he can control. But he can make it tough for a team to pass him up.
“I just focus on the things that I can control and try and get better each and every day,” Mason III said.
Should Mason III ultimately fall to the second round like many college seniors before him, don’t be surprised if looking back he ends up being one of the steals of the draft. And like Powell and Brogdon before him, don’t be surprised if you see him playing a major role on a playoff team at this time next season.
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