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O’Boyle: Don’t underestimate Frank Mason’s pedigree

| Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Kansas’s 2013 recruiting class came in with some high expectations.

There was Andrew Wiggins, who was expected to be the top overall draft pick in 2014 before he even played a college game, and subsequently was. Joel Embiid, who came in as a five-star center and despite frequent injuries, has become one of the top young stars in the NBA after less than 800 minutes on the court. Add in Wayne Selden Jr., a five-star small forward ranked as one of the top-20 players in the country in his class, and you have a dynamic trio.

And by the end of the season, one member of that class even had a rap song written about them. But it wasn’t Embiid, Selden or Wiggins (Wiggins earned a shout-out in the chorus of Drake’s “Draft Day,” but being name-dropped doesn’t make the song about him, not least because Johnny Manziel, soon to begin his brief career with the Browns, earns an even more prominent spot in the song’s lyrics). It was the diminutive point guard ranked as the fifth-best member of the class — Frank Mason.

He hadn’t shocked the world in his freshman year. Mason started only three games for the Jayhawks, two of them losses, and averaged only 5.5 points and 2.1 assists per game. He scored only four points over the course of the NCAA tournament. Apart from scoring 15 points, eleven from the line, against Duke in the second game of the season, Mason had done little to warrant much attention.
So when Virginia rapper RedHead, who grew up in the next town over from Mason’s Petersburg, wrote a song about Mason, it seemed a little bizarre.

Now, Mason has lived up to every boast Redhead makes. Kansas may have been eliminated in the Elite Eight of this year’s NCAA tournament, but Mason has won the Naismith award — among other national honors — as the best player in college basketball. Not only does that feat surpass his highly-recruited classmates, but it makes him only the second Kansas Naismith Award winner, after Danny Manning.

What RedHead knew in 2014, and the entire college basketball world knows now, is something that NBA scouts still seem to be blind to, however. Mason is not the pro prospect that likely top picks Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz are, and in a draft with extraordinary depth at the point guard position, Mason looks set to go lower than he would in a normal year.

But Mason’s draft stock isn’t just that of a non-lottery pick. He looks almost certain to be the first ever Naismith winner drafted outside the top 20, and faces a real possibility of going undrafted. It appears likely that if Mason is selected, it will be late in the second round, behind 50 other players.

Why? It’s hard to say size isn’t the biggest reason. Mason, listed at 5-11 by Kansas, is certainly not the ideal size for an NBA point guard and doesn’t come close to stacking up physically with the likes of Ball and Fultz. But in a season where 5-9 Isaiah Thomas, who was picked dead-last in the 2011 NBA Draft, has led Boston Celtics to top the Eastern Conference and looks set to finish top-3 in the league in scoring, maybe the emphasis on size is too much.

Will Mason ever be an elite defender in the NBA? No. But he’s proven that he can deliver against top competition in college at his size, and it’s hard to see the pros faring so much better at stopping his offensive game that he should fall as low as Thomas did. Mason shoots over 47 percent from 3-point range and averages over 20 points and five assists per game. He’s simply too good at this level to not have a big part of that translate. And defensively, while he lacks size, his intensity helps significantly in making up for it.

Mason is old, too, at 23. There’s no way his ceiling is on the same level as a teenager with many more years ahead, but the instant NBA success of a college veteran like Malcolm Brogdon, a favorite for Rookie of the Year this year, while younger players have struggled, is a reminder that experience can provide a valuable impact right away.

On the song, “Frank Mason,” RedHead says that, “you don’t want to keep Frank waiting.” The way it looks, most NBA executives will regret keeping Frank waiting on draft night.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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