Maybe some day, as a little joke during his senior season, tough-as-nails Kansas point guard Frank Mason will don shoulder pads for basketball practice.
“He wears compression shorts that are padded. Other than that, I don’t know of any (protective gear),” Devonté Graham, Mason’s backcourt partner, said with a smile.
Yet Graham agrees: the more cushion, the better for the 5-foot-11 Mason, who had to lead KU in both intentional (floor burns) and unintentional (hard foul) falls to the floor a year ago.
“He doesn’t fall as much (in practice) as he does in games,” Graham said. “He definitely flies in there to the paint and finishes. You can’t really explain it. People think he’s so small. When he goes in there, it’s like, ‘What is he doing?’
“He’s strong. He can finish above 6-10, 7-foot (players). The things he does in his body is pretty amazing.”
Mason takes comments about such contact in stride.
“I hear it from the fans, my teammates,” he said. “They’re always saying I’m on the floor and this and that.”
Asked if he’s ever concerned there will come a day that he might not be able to get up, however, Mason was unequivocal.
“No chance I’m thinking about being hurt,” he said. “I’m willing to do whatever I can do to get the ball and give my team the best chance to have a good possession.”
He certainly put in the time last season, averaging a team-leading 33.5 minutes per game.
“Well, coach really wants me out there,” Mason said. “My teammates really need me out there. Whatever it takes to keep everyone happy and give us the best chance to win, I’m willing to do.”
And Mason contributes in many ways.
He averaged 12.9 points a game last season and is the squad’s leading returning scorer. He hit 43.4 percent of his shots, including 38.1 percent of his threes and 73.9 percent of his free throws. He also dished 4.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per contest.
“I’ve worked hard and never stopped,” Mason said of his years at KU.
Not only has he worked hard on the court, he has also developed his physical frame.
“Coach and (assistant AD/sports performance Andrea) Hudy and those people stress that a lot, taking care of our bodies,” Mason said. “Eating the right things, getting fluids in your body, getting the right amount of sleep so you can be prepared for the game.”
Coach Bill Self appreciates the effort Mason brings to the floor every day at practice. It translates into his effort during games.
“Frank doesn’t always play great, but there’s nobody tougher — nobody,” Self said. “He’s about as competitive as anybody we’ve had here.”
As lead recruiter of Mason, KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend saw his tenacity up close and personal during Mason’s prep-school season at Massanutten Academy in Woodstock, Va.
“I told Coach Self, ‘He reminds me of a mini-Sherron (Collins) type kid,’” Townsend said. “Coach thought Sherron was great. He said, ‘Cmon.’ I said, ‘By the time he’s a junior, he could be that all-league guy,’” Townsend said.
KU signed Mason, who showed up eager to play.
“He is fearless,” Townsend said. “He got here and didn’t know any better. He said, ‘Hey, what do I gotta do?’ He’s really a competitive kid and a good player. When it means something to you ... we love guys who are competitive and will fight.”
Now Mason is a possible Big 12 player of the year candidate.
“He’s a great player and leader” Graham said. “He leads by example but says things, too.
“He’s a great teammate to every one of us, and I enjoy playing next to him.”