Kansas guard Frank Mason was chosen Big 12 player of the year on Sunday and he made his first major All-America team, selected by Sporting News, on Monday.
The honors figure to keep rolling in for Mason, the senior from Petersburg, Va., and that would surprise none of the opposing Big 12 coaches.
“The improvement he’s made from year three to year four, from one to four, is phenomenal,” West Virginia’s Bob Huggins said. “It took a whole lot of work. He put in enormous time in the gym. It’s good to see somebody work that hard and get the accolades he deserves.”
Mason leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.5 points per game while averaging 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds. He’s bidding to become the first player in Big 12 history to surpass 20 points and five assists per game for a season.
“He can hurt you in so many ways,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said after his team fell to the Jayhawks last week. “He’s become such a great shooter. With a guy that quick, who can also shoot it, if you step at him at all he goes by you so strong.”
Mason’s three-point shooting has turned him into a dangerous offensive player. He’s hovered around shooting 50 percent on threes all season, and is currently at 49.3 percent.
Baylor’s Scott Drew likened Mason’s improvement from deep — he entered the year a career 38.7 percent shooter — to that of former Oklahoma star Buddy Hield.
“When he first got into the (Big 12), shooting isn’t what he was known for,” Drew said of Hield. “When he left you couldn’t leave him open.”
Mason turned in a similar season, Drew said, not turning down open looks like he did earlier in his career.
There are also his clutch performances and Mason has delivered a season’s worth, from his game-winning jumper to beat Duke in November, through his late steal at Kansas State to two late free throws to send the West Virginia home game into overtime. Mason has been the difference maker in many Kansas victories.
Mason is coming off one of his best performances of the season with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in Saturday’s 90-85 victory at Oklahoma State.
“As good as I’ve ever seen him play,” Cowboys’ Coach Brad Underwood said.
Few have been watching Mason play longer than TCU Coach Jamie Dixon. When he coached at Pittsburgh, Dixon scouted Mason as a high school junior. The Jayhawks didn’t see Mason until after his senior season at Petersburg High.
Mason had signed with Towson State, but didn’t qualify academically and enrolled at Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia for a season.
Mason, 22, used the additional year of prep school and four years in college — three as a starter — to grow his game.
“He’s old, athletic, tough, he knows what he’s doing and he has really good players around him,” Dixon said.
Mason’s best attribute according to Texas coach Shaka Smart isn’t found under the individual numbers.
“The thing he’s done his whole career is win,” Smart said. “Contrary to what some believe, that’s what they’re looking for at the next level.”
Before then, Mason, who joined Wayne Simien (2005), Marcus Morris (2011) and Thomas Robinson (2012) as Big 12 players of the year in the Bill Self era, wants to reach his first Final Four.
“I think about it all the time,” Mason said. “You know, it’s the last go-around, just trying to do everything we can to make it to that point.”