Thursday, November 13, 2008

Express News: Hill and Mason find rhythm in Spurs' backcourt

By Colin Fly

MILWAUKEE — San Antonio's new starting backcourt of George Hill and Roger Mason Jr. sounds more like a pair of architects or investment bankers.

Actually, that's half true.

Mason is an avid reader of Architectural Digest magazine, and studied the subject while at the University of Virginia.

He even used to sneak into homes in Washington, D.C. with his brother, Frank, when he was younger.

"We probably weren't supposed to," Mason said.

Now Frank is the investment banker, and Mason is building a new future as a scorer with the Spurs missing superstars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili due to injuries.

"My career has been windy," Mason said Wednesday night before San Antonio's 82-78 loss at Milwaukee. "Last year was really my first opportunity. I'd been in the league for three years, but I never averaged more than 8 minutes a game."

Then Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas got hurt, and Mason, who also spent time playing in Europe and Israel while rehabbing from major shoulder surgery, stepped in and averaged 9.1 points per game for Washington before signing with the Spurs in the offseason.

"It's one thing to get an opportunity, it's another thing to make the most of it," Mason said.

He's getting a bigger chance now. Parker will miss about a month due to a moderate left ankle sprain, and Ginobili hasn't played this season and isn't scheduled to be back from left ankle surgery until December.

"I was just getting used to Tony, and he gets so much attention, so it's pretty easy to play off him," Mason said. "Now he's out, so I've got to get used to playing with George a little bit more."

San Antonio used the 26th pick in this year's draft to take Hill, and while he's learning on the fly, he's also got a style all his own. He jams to Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" with his cousins to the video game "Rock Band" — not "Guitar Hero: World Tour" like Kobe Bryant has appeared in commercials for — and he's almost always the drummer.

"I like to play Rock Band — a lot," Hill said.

He's finding his rhythm on the court, too, after three seasons at IUPUI.

"Any time you come in and you have a player like Tony go down, it's always different, you can't be a Tony Parker, but I think it's just staying focused and doing what got me here," Hill said. "The only thing I think I want to accomplish is giving my team the best chance to win games, and I think that's what I'm doing right now."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Hill is taking advantage of his opportunity and that Mason is even more vital than his current average of 15.2 points per game.

"He's been of paramount importance to us because he's really been a scorer for us," Popovich said. "I think when we get healthy, his real value will show. It'll make us a pretty deep team I think. But at this point, he's saving us in certain situations — even games we lost — we would have been in worse shape without his contributions."

Popovich also said he's having fun teaching the younger players on his roster who have been forced to play important roles.

"It's like coaching Tony all over again to coach George Hill," Popovich said. "It always is fun because you get to go back and teach things that maybe you haven't had to teach in a while because that happened years ago. So starting at the beginning with some guys is a lot of fun."

Mason said Hill won't be another Parker, who gets his share of headlines off the court for his marriage to actress Eva Longoria.

"The one before him got the movie star girlfriend, then wife," Mason said. "Hopefully he's not too concerned about that."

The thing is Hill — who has a girlfriend — doesn't have to be like Parker, because in San Antonio's system, it's all about playing an assigned role and feeding Tim Duncan.

"They've been built around the Big Three — Tony, Manu and Tim," Mason said. "They get guys that not only can play basketball, but are high character guys, too."

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