Thursday, October 2, 2008

Express News: Only 101 Reasons To Like Mason

Roger Mason Jr. attended an exclusive middle school that included, among others, Chelsea Clinton. He designed his house in Maryland.

He has his own construction business, and that figures. A Washington Wizards executive says Mason might be the only player who could make more money outside the NBA than in it.

His father was an outstanding eye surgeon who died of kidney failure when Roger Jr. was 11. Then, Roger Jr. decided he had to be “the strong one” because he had a little brother and two little sisters.

The stories go on and on. The newest Spur is part Steve Kerr and part Bruce Bowen, with some David Robinson thrown in, and Mason arrived Monday at the Spurs' media day with the personality in place. Mason went from camera to camera, greeting everyone with a handshake and a smile.

But it won't be long before no one cares. For about the first six weeks of the season, Mason will be asked to ease the loss of Manu Ginobili, and there are reasons to think he can't.

There are also reasons to think he can.

Specifically, there are 101.

The Spurs settled on a few less this past summer when they signed Mason. He is versatile, he can shoot 3-pointers, and he can defend.

They love who he is, too. He's a smart, engaging man who fits in this locker room. Mason has earned his success, and this goes back to when he left Virginia after three years.

He entered the draft because some analysts thought he would be a top-15 pick. Some scouts don't remember rating him that high, but none of it mattered when Mason crashed to the floor during a workout before the draft. He still has the scar on his right shoulder from the surgery that followed, not far from a tattoo in honor of his late father.

Mason fell to the second round. The injury kept him out for nine months, and then he was caught in a regime change in Chicago. He went to Greece and Israel, the kind of path other Spurs have taken before, if just to play again.

He played summer league, too, and the Spurs brought him into their summer program in 2006. They liked him but had no place for him, and the next summer, the Spurs brought him back. Then they offered him a small, three-year deal that wasn't fully guaranteed, and he chose to return to the Wizards in a make-good year.

Mason had bet on himself. And when Gilbert Arenas went down early, Mason slid over a few seats on the Wizards' bench and helped stabilize a group that wasn't supposed to make the playoffs. But it did.

“He has meant as much to this team as myself or Caron Butler,” Antawn Jamison said last spring. “He's one of those stories of a guy who wouldn't give up.”

His coach, Eddie Jordan, called Mason “the quiet assassin” because he showed no emotion on big shots, and the Wizards wanted him back. Handcuffed by negotiations for Arenas, however, they couldn't counter the Spurs' offer.

Few saw the signing as significant. Mason wasn't the sexy free agent that Corey Maggette was, and this goes back to the scouts' initial impression of Mason. He's never been physically imposing; it takes time to appreciate what he does on the floor.

That's partly because it's taken time for Mason to get better. For example, a year ago, he would end every summer workout the same way. His trainer, Joe Connelly, would require Mason to make five consecutive 3-pointers.

This summer, Mason took it further. Connelly says Mason missed only two days; the day Mason signed his contract with the Spurs, he flew back to the Washington area and was in the gym that night.

“He's no longer just a spot-up shooter,” Connelly said Monday. “He's revolutionized his game, and here's my prediction. He will be a candidate for the league's most-improved player award.”

The Spurs aren't anticipating that. But they don't yet know what Connelly knows, and what happened the day before Mason left for San Antonio earlier this month.

Connelly didn't have Mason make five 3-pointers to end the workout. Mason instead shot 109.

And made 101.

An encouraging article about the newcomer. Considering that the Spurs success may very well hinge upon Mason's ability to come in and produce, at least until Manu returns to the lineup, it's good to hear that the guy is motivated and confident. He doesn't need to shoot threes at a 93% clip, but he does need need to be a useful stopgap until we can get this roster back into shape.

Shooting 93% from downing sure as hell wouldn't hurt, though.

No comments:

Sports Top Blogs