Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Niagara's Mason Still D-I's National Scoring Leader

Chip off the old block?

Not entirely. Niagara's junior guard Antoine Mason, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, isn't anywhere near the physical dimensions of his father.

Dad, Anthony Mason, was a power-packed 6-7, 250-pounder who had a standout college career at Tennessee State, followed by 13 productive NBA seasons.

But, dad did pass down gifts of quickness, strength and one other important aspect.

Anthony Mason, an undersized power forward in the NBA, used an unquestioned work ethic to impose his will on basketball proceedings.

As does the son.

"He is doing what he's doing because of the work he puts in," said Niagara coach Chris Casey, about his Mason, reently. "People don't see how hard he works. So, it's good for him to reap some rewards this season, even if they are individual rewards."

That trait is mentioned, in a recent phone conversation, to the younger Mason.

"Yeah, I guess it's good bloodlines," he says of his own work ethic.

That's not all he got from dad, though.

"I used to travel with him a little when he was in the NBA and saw what it took (to play at a high level)," Mason said. "And, dad has worked with me a lot. We work out together in the off-season. He's always there for me. He's at most of my games, and we talk every day."

The individual reward is the likelihood of him capturing the national scoring title this season, something even his father never did.

Antoine Mason is averaging a Division I best of 27.4 points per contest, and has been atop the scoring list since Day 1 when he dropped 34 on Seton Hall way back in the season opener on Nov. 9.

Anthony Mason actually averaged more points, as a college senior, than his son's current average. The elder Mason scored at a 28.0 ppg. clip as a senior in 1987-88, but wasn't close to that season's national scoring leader Hersey Hawkins of Bradley and his 36.3 ppg. average.

The younger Mason would need a drastic dropoff to lose this year's scoring title. Creighton's standout forward Doug McDermott is his closest pursuer at 25.0 ppg.

And while Antoine Mason can thank, in part, some good family genes, Niagara can give thanks to another Mason family member for being able to retain the high-scoring junior after former coach Joe Mihalich moved on to Hofstra.

Mihalich's departure included the transfer of two of the Purple Eagles' top three scorers from a year ago to his current location. And, two other members of last season's playing group also moved on, transferring elsewhere.

Mason said that he, too, thought about leaving after Mihalich left Niagara.

"But, I decided to wait it out to see who the new coach would be," he said.

When Casey was hired, one of Mason's first phone calls was to his older brother, Anthony Mason Jr., a former standout at St. John's when Casey was an assistant coach there.

"My brother gave a very positive scouting report on coach Casey," said Mason. "That was one of the reasons why I stayed."

For sure, Niagara is glad to have him ... glad to have a national scoring leader on its roster.

The program had gotten considerable positive recognition during Mihalich's 15-year tenure, mostly for a dramatic turnaround from what had been a moribund situation prior to his arrival.

The Purple Eagles, after all of the defections from last year's team, weren't destined to compete for the MAAC crown this year and, entering Thursday's 8:30 p.m. game against Siena at the Times Union Center, have a 6-15 overall record.

But, considerable positive publicity continues up on Monteagle Ridge, thanks to a certain name atop the national leader board for points.

"It's definitely good for us," said Casey, about having the national scoring leader. "It has brought some positive attention both to our program and to Antoine.

"But, that's not what his goal is. He does what he can to try to help us win. He doesn't come out every game looking to be the nation's leading scorer. His goal is looking to do whatever he can to help us win games."

Mason agrees.

"The scoring title thing isn't something I follow ... I don't even know what the stats are, unless someone tells me," he said. "But, I'm getting a lot of recognition for it. It's nice to walk around campus and students stop me to say things about it to me.

"But, now that we're this far into the season and I'm still on top (of all scorers nationally) I'd like to stay there."

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