Wearing a maroon Kansas City T-Bones jersey No. 1 and black pants, former Kansas point guard Frank Mason juggled a baseball in his right hand as he strolled to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch before the T-Bones home opener against the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats on Tuesday night at T-Bones Stadium.
Pitching from the stretch, the 24-year-old Mason fired a fastball down the middle to T-Bones pitcher Jackson Lowery, who accepted the offering from the 5-foot-11, 190-pound rookie with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
“I think I throw an 80 mile per hour strike,” Mason said, actually answering a question about his softball-playing ability rather than baseball acumen.
Mason was in Kansas City, Kan., to promote his June 16 Frank Mason and Friends Charity Softball game. Details for the 3 p.m. event (also to be held at T-Bones Stadium), which will benefit Children’s Mercy Hospital and the National Youth Foundation, are available at fm3charitysoftballgame.com.
“I play (softball). My team’s going to win, too,” Mason said of the celebrity game, which will include former KU basketball players Ben McLemore, Landen Lucas, Wayne Selden, Sherron Collins and many others. A home run derby will take place before the softball game at 2 p.m.
“We’ve not split the teams up yet. Anybody who is serious about the game and really trying to win will probably be on my team.”
Mason, college basketball’s 2017 consensus national player of the year, acknowledged he takes all competition seriously. In his first season in the NBA, the Kings' second-round draft pick averaged 7.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 52 games. A foot injury kept him out of action about a month and a half.
“They say I never show any emotion. It’s just who I am,” said Mason, who noted that he “adjusted to everything pretty well (in the NBA). I think it was an all right season as far as how I rate myself. I’ve got a lot more to prove, a lot more work to get in. I’m ready to get to work tomorrow, start offseason workouts. I’ll definitely have a better season next year.”
Mason said he enjoyed “going up against everyone (in NBA),” but conceded his favorite challenge was playing against Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.
“Just because as a kid I met him in Vegas when I was 7, 8 years old,” said Mason. “I literally ran the whole trip just to go meet him. Once I got there I shook his hand, took a picture with him and told him, ‘I can score on you, man. I’ll be in the NBA one day.’ I said it as a little kid. I scored on him three times so far,” Mason added, smiling.
James stands 6-8, 250 pounds; Mason is 5-11, 190.
“Size never came across my mind. I honestly think I’m 7-feet,” Mason said. “I have one of the biggest hearts in the NBA. I think it’s what matters the most.”
Just down the road from his college campus, he discussed the past season of his KU point guard successor, Devonté Graham, who now is trying to position himself to be selected in the NBA Draft. Mason was a second-round pick of the Kings at 34th overall.
“He had a good season, a great season is winning it all,” Mason said. “They did really well. I was happy to see somebody I grew with at Kansas for three, four years, happy to see him go farther than I did (to the Final Four). That made me happy. I’m happy for him.”
He said he was saddened Tuesday to hear of the firing of KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger.
“He was there all four years I was there,” Mason said. “He’s a great guy. I had good conversations every time we’d pass each other, see each other. He’s a great role model for the KU athletic program. He did a great job in every sport. He did an unbelievable job expressing the tradition at KU each and every year.”