Schools expect to lose players via graduation. And, so it is with Niagara that will lose its stellar guard Antoine Mason, who graduated earlier this month with a bachelor's degree in finance.
But, the Purple Eagles, until a few days ago, expected to have the 6-foot-3 Mason back for the 2014-15 season. Mason, who was a medical redshirt for a year, had one more season of eligibility. He could have remained at Niagara, taken graduate-level courses and continued to play there.
Instead, he has recently requested, and been granted, permission to transfer out of the program.
How big a loss? This big: In just three seasons, he scored 1,934 points, third-most in Niagara's history. He also leaves as the 14th all-time career scorer in MAAC history. For a good portion of the 2013-14 season he led the country in scoring before finishing second nationally at 25.2 points per contest.
Had he remained in the MAAC, he'd have been the clear front-runner to be the preseason Player of the Year choice.
Instead, he opts to move on.
According to published reports, Niagara's release agreement stipulates that Mason can not transfer to any other MAAC school (Iona had been rumored as a potential location) or at any school on the Purple Eagles' non-league schedule.
“I know Antoine enjoyed playing here, and I’m sure this was a difficult decision for him and his family,” said Niagara coach Chris Casey, in a statement released by the school. “Antoine played a big role in our basketball program for the past four years and we are proud that he earned his bachelor’s degree from Niagara University. Now it is time for us to move forward with the players who are committed to continuing the tremendous legacy of the Niagara University Purple Eagles.”
Even with Mason Niagara finished 3-17 in conference play and 7-26 overall. It was the program's worst record since it was 2-16/5-25 in the 1994-95 season.
And, now, without Mason, Niagara doesn't have a single returning player who averaged double figures last season.
Mason's departure means the program lost its top three scorers from a year ago (forward Marcus Ware and guard Marvin Jordan also graduated) and its No. 5 scorer, Tahjere McCall, a guard, who opted to transfer several weeks ago.