Though Frank Mason III is strong, fast and athletic, his journey to the NBA was more of a marathon than a sprint. The Kings’ second-round draft choice is 23, the father of a 6-year-old son and a college graduate.
He also attended prep school for a year and might be the only athlete recruited by a major college football program despite not playing a down in high school.
We already know the Petersburg, Va., native has a high basketball IQ. The potential for brain damage and the image of purple bruises coloring his sturdy 6-foot, 190-pound frame was a non-starter. He thanked West Virginia’s recruiters for their time – and the flattery – and tightened the laces on his sneakers.
“Our center was committed to West Virginia to play on the offensive line,” Mason said, “and one day when the coaches were visiting, they came to a basketball practice while we were doing drills. They thought I could be a great defensive back because of my footwork, my body.”
Mason instead signed with Kansas, where he earned a liberal arts degree and hosted a rooftop party in Richmond, Va., during the June 22 draft, during which he slipped into the second round (34th overall).
With the Kings successfully recruiting free agent George Hill, the point guard situation has been clarified: The plan is to develop first-round pick De’Aaron Fox and Mason at a reasonable pace – not leaving them completely alone against Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and others – and allow the rookies to learn the nuances of the position from the respected veteran.
Mason has no problem taking it slow. His coach at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va. – the prep school he attended for a year after failing a required government class at Petersburg High – describes his former star as a diligent, determined worker and tremendous competitor.
“Frank thinks he can guard anybody on the floor,” Chad Myers said, “and he’s more athletic than people realize. At the pre-draft combine, he had a 41-inch vertical. And he plays within himself. Obviously, because he has improved his outside shooting, when guys get up on him, he has the quickness to get around them. That’s helped him figure out when to go (drive), when not to go, and helped him become a better finisher.”
Mason stayed at Kansas for four years partly because his jump shot was shaky, but also to improve his efficiency at the rim. On a team that included Suns first-round pick Josh Jackson and is coached by the respected Bill Self, the muscular playmaker averaged 20.1 points and 5.1 assists his senior season and improved his field-goal and three-point shooting percentages to 49 and 47 percent. His reward was an impressive collection of honors, including the Naismith, Associated Press, Sporting News, USA Today, Oscar Robertson and NABC player of the year awards.
UC Davis coach and former Kings guard Jim Les plans to attend summer league practice Wednesday and reintroduce himself to the Aggies’ NCAA Tournament nemesis, who had 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds to lead Kansas to a 100-62 victory. And the Aggies can testify about Mason’s aggressive, physically punishing defense. UC Davis seniors Darius Graham and Brynton Lemar struggled to create space and generate clean looks while being harassed by Mason.
“The first thing that stands out when you’re watching tape is how skilled Frank is,” Les said. “He shoots at a high level, can create for himself and his teammates, just has a really good command on what’s going on on both ends. … I played behind the master in John Stockton. He was the master of angles. When you watch Frank, he masters the angles, draws contact and finishes, uses his body. That evens the playing field for what he lacks in size.”
Les was among those surprised when Mason fell to the second round.
“I think it was a huge coup for the Kings,” Les said, “because I think he’s going to be a really good pro. I like De’Aaron Fox a lot, but Frank is stronger, more ready.”
Mason also is 3½ years older than Fox, has played in four NCAA Tournaments and is disciplined enough to share raising his son, Amari.
“We’re working on getting him out here,” Mason said. ““He goes into first grade next year, and that’s an important time.”
This is an important time for Dad, too.