Sherron Collins was sitting up against a wall outside the Kansas basketball practice gym, beads of sweat still collecting on his forehead. It was a Wednesday in June, a scorching hot afternoon, and Collins, the former Kansas star guard, had just spent an hour scrimmaging with the current KU roster.
Collins leaned against a wall near a staircase. He knew the question was coming. And why not? He knew someone was about to ask him about Frank Mason, the Jayhawks’ lead guard, the rising junior who resembles Collins in both stature and style.
“I’ve bought into it,” Collins said, smiling. “He’s a bulldog. He reminds me of myself in so many ways.”
Indeed. Mason’s story these days cannot be told without first at least mentioning Collins. Mason is an undersized lead guard, just like Collins. Mason is physical and quick and loves to attack the rim, just like Collins. Mason is also fearless, and this description comes from Collins himself.
Let Collins explain:
“I just think he’s fearless,” Collins said. “I just looked at it (like), when I played somebody, I just knew — I didn’t think — I kind of knew he couldn’t guard me. I think that’s the same approach that Frank is taking.”
It was evident, at least, that this was the approach Mason took during Kansas’ 91-83 exhibition victory over Team Canada on Tuesday night at the Sprint Center. Mason finished with 28 points, six rebounds and five assists on nine-of-14 shooting. He poured in 16 points in the fourth quarter. He seized control of the game in the final minutes, lifting the Jayhawks to a win in their first tuneup before the World University Games in July. The Jayhawks will return to the Sprint Center at 7 p.m. Friday, facing Canada again before taking off for South Korea on Sunday.
“I hit a couple shots late and just felt pretty confident,” Mason said. “But I just have to give props to my teammates.”
In the moments after the game, Kansas coach Bill Self offered the idea that it might have been Mason’s best game as a Jayhawk, which may or may not be true. Mason averaged 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game as a sophomore. He was, for most of the season, the Jayhawks’ best player — before power forward Perry Ellis hit a groove in the final weeks of Big 12 play. But Tuesday’s performance could be described as a Collins-type performance, which perhaps is the biggest compliment of all.
“It’s just a joy to see him keep growing, because he’s getting it,” Collins says. “He’s going to get it; he knows the importance of it. I think he understands now, being the upperclassmen, he has to be the leader.”
While he never found consistent success at the professional level, comparing anyone to Collins is serious business. After a decorated four-year career, Collins became Kansas’ fifth all-time leading scorer. And when Self discusses his NCAA Championship team from 2008, he generally reserves the most reference for Collins.
“Sherron is the baddest boy we’ve had here,” Self said earlier this year, when asked to compare Mason to Collins. “It’s hard to say that anybody is Sherron. … There’s nobody that came in here that was a better basketball player than Sherron Collins, period.
“The thing about it is, Frank’s more athletic than Sherron, because as Sherron got older, I don’t think he was quite as explosive as he was when he was young. But I love Frank (and) that would be a great goal, for him to get to the point where he can play like Sherron, because that guy was a special college player.”
Mason will be just a junior this fall, and just like Collins, his size likely will make him a four-year player. In this way, Self says, Mason is close to the perfect college guard — good enough to dominate at the college level, too small to mesmerize NBA scouts. But as the Jayhawks embark on the World University Games, Mason believes he has room to improve. He can become more vocal, he says, something that has never come easily. This summer, he will play alongside SMU senior point guard Nic Moore, a natural and confident leader. Self believes the experience will help.
“Frank is a terrific talent,” Self said. “I’m not sure there’s anybody in our league, from a raw talent standpoint that can do more things than Frank. But Frank is not a natural point guard. Nick is a natural — just verbally, getting guys organized, understanding what all five guys are supposed to be doing at all times. Frank is more of a player. But he’s trying really hard. I think Nick can teach him how to be better at the intangible things.”
Mason also believes he find more comfort running a team. He can tighten up his ballhandling. He can improve his shot. He can continue his evolution, day by day, slowly growing into one of college basketball’s best guards.
“I see what all the other guys used to say when they (saw) me play,” Collins said.
A moment later, Collins tried to describe the similarities. He paused for a second, trying to find the right way to label Mason’s game. He settled on this: Mason, Collins says, can do things that few guards can.
“He’s got a lot of stuff,” Collins said.