Virginia's Junior Leader
Feb. 7, 2002
If you ask Roger Mason, Jr. what his most memorable moment at the University of Virginia has been, his answer might surprise you. It’s not UVa’s first win at North Carolina’s Smith Center during his freshman year. It’s not the Cavaliers’ dramatic 91-89 victory over Duke last season. Instead, the Silver Spring, Maryland native points to a win on March 4, 2000. Mason scored 13 points in Virginia’s 89-87 overtime victory over 17th ranked Maryland.
“Really for me that was good because I had a rough year my first year and to be able to play pretty well against them [was satisfying],” Mason recalled. “Although I wasn’t a star, it felt good to be a part of something so big for the first time.”
One could argue since that game, Mason has been a star on the rise. As a sophomore, the 6-5 guard averaged 15.7 points per game and his 88.4 percent free throw shooting led the ACC. Mason has scored in double figures in 31 straight games, a streak that began with a 19 point performance in last season’s 99-78 victory over ninth-ranked Maryland. Not coincidentally, Mason began to develop into one of the team’s leaders at about the same time.
“My sophomore year early on I was still trying to feel my way through on a team that had some seniors,” Mason said. “But midway through the season, I started to get a feel for how things were going and I felt like it was time for me to step up and be a leader of the team. There were games like Duke and Florida State where I had the ball at the end of the game and I was able to do some things. So I just think the coaches had confidence in me and it just helped me. “
Mason’s drive to the basket led to Adam Hall’s game-winning layup with under a second remaining in Virginia’s upset of third-ranked Duke last Valentine’s Day. Three days later, Mason connected on a three-pointer with one second left to lift UVa to a 69-66 victory at Florida State. But his fortune turned in the Cavaliers’ last game of the season. Mason scored a career-high 30 points against Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But with Virginia trailing by one in the contest’s waning moments, Mason’s game-winning shot attempt missed.
That loss motivated the 2001 third-team All-ACC selection to work harder than ever during the off-season. His strong play in one of the nation’s premier conferences helped him earn a tryout for the 2001 USA Basketball World University Games team. Mason made the final 12 man roster with such notables as Maryland’s Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter and Gonzaga point guard Dan Dickau.
“Here [at Virginia] I’m used to having a high responsibility and being able to do things with a little bit more leeway,” Mason said. “But that team, with so many talented guys, you had to try to fit in. It was good for me because you’re not always going to be part of a team where you’re the key guy. Just playing with those guys day in and day out really helped me.”
Mason was the third-leading scorer on the U.S. team that captured a bronze medal at the World University Games in Beijing, China. He returned to Virginia hoping to team with his close friend, Majestic Mapp, to form one of the nation’s most dynamic backcourt tandems. Instead, Mapp is sitting out a second consecutive season after injuring his right knee playing in a pick-up basketball game on August 2, 2000.
“When that happened it just put a perspective on things so quickly because Majestic never thought that could happen to him,” Mason said. “You never think it could happen to you, but the reality of it is anything is possible and you just have to be thankful to be here and to be able to play also.”
Virginia fans are thankful Roger Mason, Jr. is in a Cavalier uniform. Mason plays both point guard and shooting guard for UVa. Through 20 games this season, he is Virginia’s leading scorer, averaging 18 points per game. As the Cavalier’s most dangerous offensive threat, the junior is typically the focal point of the opposing team’s defensive effort.
“It’s definitely been tough a couple of games,” Mason said. “With me playing the point a lot this year, teams are going to test me that way. But they also know I can score pretty well, too. Teams have been trying to limit my touches. Really the best thing for me to do is to draw them to me and try to get other guys the ball and help my teammates out. We’ve got talented guys on the team and they don’t need me to do everything. When teams are keying on me it makes it easier for our other guys.”
Mason’s 90 assists this season lead the team as well. He is one of Virginia’s captains, a role he shares with seniors Adam Hall and Chris Williams. Of the tri-captains, Mason is the most vocal and he has diligently worked to improve his leadership ability over the last year.
“In practice I always work hard to try to improve my game and go through every individual drill and try to get better,” Mason said. “But really what I’m trying to do is help be a leader. Help the young guys and the guys my year and older realize there’s one common goal. Everyday in practice we have to be focused on that to try to get far in the Tournament and try to win the ACC regular season. There’s so many things I’d like to do and the only way you can do that is by practicing hard.”