KU Basketball News

‘MVP’? Former KU guards, assistant in awe of Frank Mason as well

Kansas guard Frank Mason, who scored 26 points Thursday, drove to the basket in the first half of a 98-66 win over Purdue Boilermakers in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game at the Sprint Center.
Kansas guard Frank Mason, who scored 26 points Thursday, drove to the basket in the first half of a 98-66 win over Purdue Boilermakers in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game at the Sprint Center. rsugg@kcstar.com

Michael Lee has a secret he doesn’t want to say too loudly.

The former Kansas guard played both high school and college ball with Aaron Miles, and even now, he still calls him “GOAT” — short for “Greatest of all time.”

Lee admits, though, that the moniker might not be a perfect fit anymore.

“If Aaron wasn’t my best friend, I would say Frank (Mason) is the best point guard ever,” Lee says with a laugh, “at least in my window of time watching KU.”

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Lee, who played at KU during 2001-05, made plans to be at this game. Now working as a high school coach in Oregon, he was visiting family in Connecticut, only to make this a pit stop on the way back.

An added bonus was getting to watch Mason in one of his final college games Thursday at the Sprint Center.

“For me, he epitomizes the type of player that coach (Bill) Self wants to recruit,” Lee said. “Here, you have a four-year guy who got better every year. Nobody as a freshman said Frank was going to be this as a senior.”

Over the next two hours, Lee would watch on as Mason continued his standout season. He scored 26 points on 9-for-11 shooting, helping KU to a 98-66 victory over Purdue and a spot in the Elite Eight.

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Lee wasn’t the only one with KU connections who has watched Mason with admiration this season.

In a seat behind KU’s bench was Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley, an assistant with the Jayhawks for 10 seasons during 2003-13. His final recruiting class at KU was the one with Mason.

“Unbelievable growth from his freshman year to now,” said Dooley, who attended the game after recruiting in Hutchinson earlier this week. “Watching his poise and how he’s developed … it’s awesome to watch.”

Kansas coach Bill Self said defense spurred the team in 98-66 win over Purdue that advanced the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight. (NCAA video)

Tyrel Reed, who played at KU during 2007-11, understands how difficult Mason is to go against; he has guarded him often in camp scrimmages over the summer.

“He’s small but he doesn’t play small. He finishes. He’s got the full package,” Reed said. “He can shoot it, he can drive it, he can pass it. And that’s what makes him so tough.

“I’m just glad he’s on our team, and I’m glad I don’t have to guard him every day.”

Lee has been most impressed by Mason’s composure. It showed again Thursday after KU fell behind by eight in the first half. Mason scored 15 first-half points to help the Jayhawks recover for a 47-40 halftime lead.

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“It’s easy to get rattled. It’s easy to get rattled and get outside yourself,” Lee said. “He’s the type of player that every coach in America would want to coach, because you can trust him on the floor. His game doesn’t change.”

Lee also sees similarities with former KU point guard Russell Robinson.

“He came in, paid his dues, worked hard, did everything right,” Lee said. “As a senior, he’s the starting point guard on a national championship team.”

Lee believes a similar path is possible this year. KU will face on Oregon on Saturday, with two potential games left after that to claim a national championship.

With 3:10 left in Thursday’s game, KU fans chanted “M-V-P” as Mason dribbled the ball at the top of the key.

Lee agrees with that public sentiment.

“I love him,” Lee said of Mason. “I think he’s the best player on the floor every night.”

KU's Josh Jackson and Landen Lucas spoke in the locker room following their 98-66 victory over Purdue in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 23, 2017. The Jayhawks advanced to the Elite Eight with the win.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell