Forget Steve Rogers: KU’s Frank Mason is the REAL Captain America, baby
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dude was, as they say, in Quebec, en feu.
Frank Mason left …
Frank Mason right …
Frank Mason, dropping dagger after dagger, all through the night.
"Well, I hit a couple of shots late," the Kansas Jayhawks’ point guard said after draining 28 points — seven more than his previous collegiate high — on Team Canada as KU/Team USA rallied for a 91-83 exhibition victory Tuesday night at Sprint Center. "Just felt pretty confident."
Ya think? The Virginia native was six for six from the floor with 16 points in the fourth and final period — FIBA rules split games up into four 10-minute quarters — and eight points in the third frame, helping the hosts outscore their neighbors to the north 50-40 after halftime. Tuesday’s tussle was the first of two exhibitions with Canada in the Power & Light District this week as prep for KU’s entry into the 2015 World University Games next month in South Korea.
"(That’s) probably as good as Frank’s played since he’s been at Kansas," KU coach Bill Self noted.
"He’s going to make Kansas fans pretty happy this upcoming season," Canada coach Barnaby Craddock offered.
Take off, eh!
Actually, in crunch time, Mason got the rock and did just that. Repeatedly. The 5-foot-11 guard took advantage of the international, 24-second shot clock, driving and kicking or driving and finishing, rubbing off screens and generally bouncing between Canadian defenders the way a pinball does between bumpers.
"I’m really good at creating my own shot," said Mason, who also drew enough contact to hit the charity stripe eight times. "Once I get it down to five-six seconds (on the clock), I know I can get a shot up."
Tuesday was a glorified scrimmage, with Self admittedly keeping the scouting and defensive details light and the accent on energy, on fun, on playing hard and on putting on a good show for the reported 8,235 in attendance.
Which it became. Eventually.
There was a bit of a summer-ball feel, summer-ball improvisation, summer-ball defensive slips and summer-ball brain cramps. Which is perfectly understandable, given that a guard from SMU (Nic Moore) and Florida Gulf Coast (Julian DeBose) are wearing Kansas jerseys this summer as injury/international replacements. At one point in the first half, the Mustang lobbed it over to the Eagle for a layup, and thousands of Jayhawk fans went nuts. Only in America, baby.
Other principals slid right into their old, comfy slippers. Perry Ellis was Perry Ellis (17 points, eight rebounds); Jamari Traylor was Jamari Traylor (12 and 10, respectively); and Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson were … well, they were themselves, too (two combined points, one-for-six shooting from the floor), for better or worse.
If anything, Canada Throwdown I was a bit of a throwback to this past winter, to where last we left them — the Jayhawks still go as their backcourt goes, same as it ever was. Off-guard Wayne Selden in the first half: zero for one from beyond the arc, two for five from the floor, and USA trailed by two at the break, 43-41. Selden opened the second half by draining three of his next four attempts, including two for two on treys; his second, with 2:50 left in the third period, pushed the hosts’ lead to 60-54.
"Wayne made some unbelievably athletic plays out there," Self said. "That save he made to Frank for the 3 was probably as big of a play as there was in the game. It’s nice having a fifth-year senior, a fourth-year senior and two three-year juniors out there. We haven’t had that since 2012, and that turned out OK."
The kids ain’t half bad, either. Tuesday was more or less the competitive debut of heralded freshman forward Carlton Bragg (four points, four boards in 13 minutes) and backcourt classmate Lagerald Vick (four points in 14 minutes), and you could see the goods, raw though they still may be. Bragg’s deep jumper with 5:06 left in the third period put KU up 52-51 and brought the locals to full voice.
"I heard it was about 8,000, 9,000 (people)," Craddock cracked. "But it felt like about 30,000 people."
The nerves showed at times — the freshmen whiffed on seven of their first 10 attempts — but the more butterflies you can get out of the way before the fall, the better. As long as they’ve got their health — see Devonte’ Graham and his torn quad — this summer tour could turn into the ideal acclimation. Bragg and Vick each notched a steal within their first three minutes of action, so the hands are there. The finishing will come.
"I think they’ll both do fine," Self said.
Better to learn on the fly. Especially against older, more physical, more mature competition, both home and abroad.
"(Team Canada), they’d win games in our league," Self said of the Big 12. "I’m not saying they’d challenge for whatever, (but) I think they’re definitely a good, solid mid-major team."
You know. The kind that raises the collective blood pressure in Lawrence every other March.
"It’s really fun to play a competitive and close game," Mason said. "(Tuesday), we learned a lot and played a great team."
Old wounds then, seasoned scars now. June turns the page, officially, and maybe this really is the start of something big. Or the start of something achingly familiar. Time will tell. But Mason, ya feel, will tell more.