Kansas freshman Josh Jackson, who was chosen MVP of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic after scoring 37 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in wins over UAB and Georgia, showered praise on another Jayhawk guard who could just as easily have won the award.
“Frank has a lot of heart. He drives to the basket, gets his head in there. For a guy his size, I have never seen someone able to finish around the basket as he has,” Jackson said of 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior Frank Mason.
Mason combined for 39 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals while playing 72 of 80 possible minutes Monday and Tuesday at the Sprint Center.
Mason, who was selected to the all-tourney team along with Jackson and Devonté Graham, entered the two-day event as reigning Big 12 player of the week as well as NCAA.com and NBCsports.com national player of the week.
It’s all led to Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com proclaiming Mason “early favorite as National Player of the Year.”
What’s been the key to the Petersburg, Va., native’s fast start in 2016-17?
“My teammates, coaching staff, trusting the game plan, just executing,” Mason said.
He leads KU, 4-1, in scoring (21.6 points), assists (5.0) and minutes (36.4 to Graham’s 35.4) per game entering Friday’s game against UNC Asheville, 3-2 at 7 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Coach (Bill Self) knows what he’s doing. We trust him. I think he wants to keep me out there for as long as he can,” Mason said.
Mason averaged 33.5 minutes per game as a junior.
“He obviously had to keep me out there today. It worked out pretty well,” Mason added after scoring 19 points with five rebounds and three steals and three assists while logging 37 minutes in Tuesday’s 65-54 title-game victory over Georgia.
Self said: “I don’t want him to play 35 minutes, but if we have to play four guards all the time, he and Devonté will have to play 35 minutes. That hasn’t been our intent going into the season at all. Hopefully it can change.”
Self acknowledged that even an iron man such as Mason, the No. 33 scorer in KU history with 1,240 points, can become fatigued.
“He got tired. Mentally he checked out there for a while the second half,” Self said of the Georgia game, in which Mason had five turnovers after committing four against UAB. “He’s a tough little kid. Certainly when he drives, he can get other guys shots or can create for himself. I thought the zone totally neutralized him for about 10 minutes the second half, but if we don’t have Frank, Devonté and Josh, that would have been a pretty lopsided loss. Fortunately those three carried us.”
The Jayhawks on Friday will be playing their fourth game in eight days.
“This is what we signed up for. We are excited every game, every trip. I’m looking forward to Friday,” Mason said of the game against UNC Asheville of the Big South Conference.
Mason hit 5 of 10 three-pointers for a KU team that cashed 18 of 48 (37.5 percent) in the two wins at the Sprint Center. For the year, KU has made 30 of 100 threes (30 percent). The Jayhawks made 41.8 percent of their threes a year ago.
“I think we got a little more confidence shooting the ball (in KC),” said Graham. He hit 3 of 9 versus Georgia and 4 of 9 against UAB.
“I think over time we’ll become a pretty good shooting team,” Self said. “I think our shot selection can improve. I think we’ve taken some pretty marginal three-point shots, but when you are playing four guards, you’ve got to score from the perimeter a little bit more. I do think we have good shooters. The reality of it is Svi (Mykhailiuk, 9 of 23, 39.1), Frank (7 of 20, 35.0) and Devonté (10 of 33, 30.3) are our best three. They need to shoot a pretty good percentage.”
Sophomore Lagerald Vick has made just 1 of 13 threes.
“Lagerald did some good things. He just hasn’t shot the ball well yet,” Self said of the 6-5 Vick, who had eight rebounds and nine points in Tuesday’s victory over Georgia. “I know he’s a better shooter than what he’s shot. He takes hard shots. He has to be smarter to drive it more because he’s so athletic.”
KU has made 47.9 percent of its shots from the field, compared to 49.5 percent a year ago, and 65 percent of its free throws, compared to last season’s 71.3 mark. Obviously it’s early.
“It’s not that complicated. If the right guys get fouled we’ll be a pretty good free-throw shooting team. If the wrong guys do, we probably won’t be as good,” Self said. “The reality is Josh will get fouled a lot. He hasn’t shot it well at all yet (11 of 23, 47.8). He’ll become a really good shooter. That will be a big difference.”
UNC Asheville enters with wins over USC Upstate (73-57), Siena (92-80) and Furman (64-58) and losses to VCU (80-65) and Georgia (60-46). Only the Siena game was played at home.
KU will meet Long Beach State at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.