Roger Mason Jr.: Moving To The Head Of The Class
Dec. 3, 2001
Roger Mason Jr. is one of the most affable basketball players you will ever meet. He is electric on the court, and engaging off of it. He is not averse to dealing with members of the media, nor does he shy away from his ever-broadening fan base. That’s probably a good thing considering the fact that, heading into the 2001-02 season, Mason is Virginia’s leading returning scorer and one of 50 finalists for the 2001-02 Wooden Award All-America Basketball Team, which includes college basketball’s most recognizable names. He is likely to become the focal point of much of the press coverage of the Cavaliers and is already a fan favorite.
“[Roger] is a tremendous player and still has room to get better,” head coach Pete Gillen says. “If he stays healthy, he has a chance to have a terrific year.”
Mason led Virginia in scoring with an average of 15.7 points a game (sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference) a season ago, and emerged as a legitimate go-to guy toward the end of the season. Mason found the ball in his hands on the final possession of the Cavaliers’ Feb. 17, 2001, game against Florida State, and calmly knocked down the game-winning three pointer. He also turned in an outstanding 30-point performance in Virginia’s 86-85 loss to Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Roger really finished strong at the end of last year,” Gillen says. “He was our go-to guy during the last seven or eight games of the season and he responded very well.”
Not only did Mason score frequently last season, he did so efficiently. He shot 47.6 percent (146-307) from the field and 44.2 percent (42-95) from three-point range. He also led the ACC in free-throw shooting by making 88.4 (122-138) percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. Mason set the UVa school record for season free-throw percentage and is currently first at Virginia (third in the ACC all time) in that category. He made 45 consecutive free throws at one point last season, falling three shy of Jeff Lamp’s UVa record of 48 consecutive-made free throws. In addition, Mason averaged 2.5 assists a game and 3.7 rebounds per contest.
“Roger is a good three-point shooter and his perimeter shooting is getting more consistent,” Gillen says. “His ball handling has improved and he’s also a good defender.”
Mason did all this despite being asked to assume the back-up point guard duties. When Majestic Mapp went down with a knee injury in August 2000, Virginia was left without a backup for then-senior Donald Hand. Enter Mason. The sophomore responded by giving the team some valuable minutes at the point. This year, he is slated to start at point guard.
“As of right now, Roger Mason Jr. will take [the open point guard] spot,” Gillen says. “He played about eight minutes a game last year as a point guard, so we think he will start.”
After emerging as a legitimate scorer and earning third team All-ACC honors after his sophomore campaign, Mason was selected as a member of the USA World University Games Team this past summer. He started all eight games at small forward for the bronze medal winning squad, averaging 13.0 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, while shooting 51.9 percent (42-81) from the field and 75.0 (9-12) percent from the free-throw line.
“It was a great experience, playing with the best in the world,” Mason says of his trip to China. “I learned a lot and it definitely helped my confidence. It makes you proud [to wear a USA jersey], especially now in these unfortunate circumstances. It just feels great to be able to represent your country and it means a lot.”
Aside from the pride and confidence Mason derives from his time with the World University Games team, Gillen feels the experience also helped hone Mason’s skills on and off the court.
“I think Roger got better playing over in China with the U.S. team,” Gillen says. “He was very valuable, [and was] the third-leading scorer. The thing I liked even more is a couple of people told me he conducted himself with class. Roger really was one of the leaders that reached out, went to other events, and represented the University, his family and his team very well. We are proud of Roger not only for playing great but for acting in a real classy way.”
This season the Cavaliers will rely on Mason to get his teammates involved while at the same time finding room for his own offense. They will also look to him to become a team leader. Mason was chosen by his teammates to serve alongside seniors Chris Williams and Adam Hall as a 2001-02 tri-captain. He will have to assume leadership responsibilities consistent with that position, which include helping the younger players adjust to the demands of playing in the nation’s toughest conference.
“Mainly my biggest role is to help this team win,” Mason says. “I’ll be playing a lot of point guard, so I’ve got to get everybody involved. At the same time, I’m a big part of the offense. Whatever it takes to win, that ‘s what my role needs to be.
“I have high expectations for myself and my team depends on me as well. Being a captain means I’m a leader on this team. We are a year older, but we also have some young kids who are going to help us a lot and we just have to nurture them and help get them ready for battle when the ACC gets around.”
There is little doubt that Mason himself will be ready to have another productive season. He emerged as a legitimate star in the ACC last season, and enhanced his image with a series of outstanding performances at the World University Games this past summer. As a captain and point guard, Mason’s biggest challenge, then, will be getting his teammates involved and helping the younger players develop. It certainly marks a new challenge for the junior, but one that, given his maturity, he should tackle with ease.