Joe Davidson

Some coaches tried to tame Folsom star’s Afro. Harvard wants to promote it.

Folsom senior center Mason Forbes (25) snatches a rebound from Lincoln guard Sam Smith on Nov. 27, 2017 at Folsom High School. Forbes committed to play basketball on scholarship at Harvard.
Folsom senior center Mason Forbes (25) snatches a rebound from Lincoln guard Sam Smith on Nov. 27, 2017 at Folsom High School. Forbes committed to play basketball on scholarship at Harvard.

Mason Forbes’ teammates refer to him as the “eraser.”

Dunks, drop steps, jumpers and up-and-under moves for buckets serve a purpose, but the Folsom High School senior center fancies playing defense, yanking down rebounds and blocking shots.

Forbes has found his place as a big man in an evolving game, and he stands as the area’s top post player, with 2017 Bee Player of the Year Jordan Brown now playing at Prolific Prep in Napa. Forbes’ commitment to play on scholarship at Harvard also speaks of his academic prowess. He is eager to test his mind and body in the Ivy League, understanding that his defensive tenacity will earn him minutes.

“I’ve always been in love with defense,” Forbes said. “I like throwing down dunks. But stopping guys on ‘D,’ blocking shots, holding a team dry on the offensive end – that’s my game.”

His 6-foot-9 frame and long wingspan provide quite an obstacle for opponents as they venture down the lane. He can switch off screens and defend guards and forwards.

Forbes averages 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots a game for The Bee’s top-ranked team, one in which balanced scoring is the key with guards Eljay Gallegos, Isaiah Jones and Jayce McCain and forward Martis Johnson.

Forbes’ offensive skill set isn’t the only thing he continues to grow.

His Afro mushrooms high and wide as he glides downcourt with long strides. It drew eyes during the summer recruiting circuit with college scouts asking, “Who’s the kid with the ’fro?” When Harvard coaches told the Forbes family during recruiting visits that they wanted to promote the hair, Forbes was sold. After all, he doesn’t need more pressure to break out the clippers. “My mom’s always on me about that,” said Forbes, who last trimmed it three months ago before Homecoming.

“The Harvard coaches were great about me being me,” he said. “They said they want to deliver a better person when I’m finished. A better person, a better player – a focus on both paths.”

Forbes started to grow his hair out in elementary school. The ’fro has been his trademark on the basketball court, but it has presented some challenges, recalls his father, Sterling Forbes. There was the time “he tried to stuff all that hair into the helmet” during youth football, a memory that still makes his father laugh. Or the time coaches suggested he tone down the look when he was invited to play for the prestigious Soldiers AAU team in the Bay Area.

“Spent three hours braiding it then had the worst game of his life, and it took him five minutes to take the braids out and everyone said, ‘Go back to what works!,’ ” Sterling Forbes said.

He reminds his son, “I had a good ’fro once, too, and that he’d better enjoy it while he can.”

Sterling Forbes, who goes with the shaved-head look now, played for years for the Harlem Globetrotters, going by “Smooth.”

Mason regularly attended Globetrotters games with sister McKenzie, star of the Folsom girls basketball team, and older brothers Max and Marcus. They had all-access passes when their father helped run camps across the country. The siblings saw a lot of showtime dazzle. Defense was optional.

But Sterling Forbes appreciated defense, thanks to watching Michael Cooper, a stopper for the famed Los Angeles Lakers teams of the 1980s and his favorite player while growing up in Los Angeles. Sterling and wife Sasha got to know Cooper well. They were married at Cooper’s New Mexico home in 1994.

“Michael Cooper grew up around the corner from me and I idolized him,” Sterling Forbes said. “I got to meet him, and then all of a sudden, I was playing games with him, going to Lakers practices, going to camps. I learned about defense because that was his niche, and here we are today with this long, lanky son who loves to play ‘D.’

“How great is that? Great defense is a lost art. You see highlights of dunking and shooting but not rebounds and blocked shots. Mason has a passion for defense.”

Folsom assistant coach Matt Mills said Forbes is a stopper in high tops but a giver otherwise. Mills teaches world history on campus and said it was common last year for Forbes to come into his class to study. Or tutor anyone in need.

“He did that on his own, and he wants to give what he has – being super smart – to other people,” Mills said. “That’s what’s really impressive about Mason.”

He’s also loyal. Forbes enjoys watching sister McKenzie run the floor for the top-ranked Bulldogs. She is headed to Cal and this week was selected to the McDonald’s All-American Game.

When McKenzie scored a dramatic bucket on Friday against rival Oak Ridge, Mason jumped up and landed with his arms flexed, the very image of a defender standing tall.

Said Mills, “We measured Mason at 6-9 with shoes on. He’s 7-1 with the hair.”

The Folsom coaches get a kick out of the ’do.

“The hair is his thing, his signature,” Folsom head coach Mike Wall said. “We embrace the ’fro at Folsom High School. What we also love his how he plays his butt off and how he’s such a good team guy.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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