Kansas coach Bill Self has signed a lot of highly touted one-and-done college players and many who were bigger high school stars than Frank Mason III.
But few players in 14 seasons have given Self more production.
Mason isn’t just the Tribune-Herald’s Big 12 player of the year, he has a legitimate shot at national player of the year.
The versatile senior guard led the Jayhawks to their 13th straight Big 12 title and the No. 1 ranking in the country at the end of the regular season.
“The No. 1 thing he’s done to help himself this year is win,” said Texas coach Shaka Smart. “He’s absolutely a winner. Contrary to what people believe, that’s what people are looking for at the next level too. Look at his 3-point shooting numbers, they’re way up. He’s done a very good job striking the balance of being the point guard who runs the team and taking big shots. He’s very deserving of being Big 12 player of the year.”
Now in his third season as a starter, Mason averaged 20.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists during the regular season. Not only is he a superb free throw shooter, his 49.2 3-point shooting percentage led the Big 12.
Opposing teams can’t just focus on stopping Mason penetrating to the basket. They have to be wary of his long-range shooting.
“Mason was such a good penetrator with the ability to get in the paint that people backed off him outside,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “This year he’s not turning anything down. If he’s open he shoots it, and he makes them at such a high rate it makes him even harder to guard. As a coach you appreciate guys working hard to improve. I’ll be excited to cheer for him more when he’s in the NBA next year.”
Self has seen Mason go from averaging 12-plus points per game during his sophomore and junior years to leading the Big 12 with 20 this year. Self credits the improvement to the hard work Mason put into improving his 3-point shot last summer.
“Frank has been really good the last two years, but this year his aggressiveness is much better,” Self said. “Last year he was most aggressive in games we needed him the most. This year he’s not deferring to anybody. He can put so much pressure on the defense when the ball is in his hands and he’s worked so hard on his shot. With the way he’s shot beyond the arc, it’s given him more ability to drive past people.”
COACH OF THE YEAR: KANSAS’ BILLSELF
No. 13 isn’t unlucky for the Kansas Jayhawks. It’s simply phenomenal.
The Jayhawks have won 13 straight Big 12 titles, which would be remarkable in any era.
But it’s mind blowing with such parity in college basketball and in such a highly competitive conference as the Big 12.
Bill Self guided the Jayhawks to a 16-2 conference record and won by four games over second-place Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and more than anything it’s a testament to Bill Self and his staff,” said Texas coach Shaka Smart. “Great players are obviously a huge part of it, but they come and go. The one constant is Bill and his staff and the program they’ve built”
As the Jayhawks neared their 13th straight title, Self said he and his staff didn’t talk to his players about the streak. They didn’t have to because the players took it upon themselves to uphold Kansas’ tradition.
“When you have something pretty special no one wants to be responsible for breaking that string of good seasons,” Self said. “We don’t talk about it as a group, we didn’t use No. 13 as motivation. But when the players know they had already won 12 straight, it was something that drove them.”
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: BAYLOR GUARD MANU LECOMTE
When Manu Lecomte transferred from Miami to Baylor two years ago, coach Scott Drew knew he had a gem.
Drew would have loved to put Lecomte into the lineup last season but he had to sit out under NCAA transfer rules. Everything that Drew expected of Lecomte has come to fruition this season as he helped the Bears reach 25 wins and a No. 9 ranking at the end of the regular season.
Lecomte has averaged 12.4 points and four assists while shooting 81.5 percent from the free throw line and a team-high 41.4 percent from 3-point range.
“He’s our floor general,” said Baylor center Jo Lual-Acuil. “He just brings a sense of calm to the team. We trust him when he has the ball in his hands, no matter what’s going on. He just finds a way to keep us all level-headed and get us to do the next right thing. He’s a great leader for us and we expect him in all situations to pull through for us.”
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: KANSAS GUARD JOSH JACKSON
As one of the top recruits in the country, big things were expected of freshman guard Josh Jackson the moment he arrived on the Kansas campus.
Jackson was a McDonald’s High School All-American who averaged 26.9 points, 13.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists for Prolific Prep in California last year.
But even great high school talents don’t always adapt to the college game immediately. But Jackson delivered as he’s become the Jayhawks’ second-leading scorer with a 16.4 average while averaging 7.2 rebounds and shooting 51 percent from the field.
More than anything, Kansas coach Bill Self has enjoyed the way Jackson has embraced the team concept.
“I think he’s one of the best players in the country and one of the most talented guys,” Self said. “But at his age he understands how to make the team better by doing a little bit of everything. He has great vision as a passer and is one of the best offensive rebounders, and that’s allowed us to win. The things he cares about are the things that are most important. He sees how he affects everyone else in his thoughts and how he sees the game.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: WEST VIRGINIA GUARD JEVON CARTER
West Virginia has one of the best monikers in the country: Press Virginia.
Nobody delivers more full-court pressure than the Mountaineers, who are relentless from tipoff to the final buzzer. The man who starts it all is junior guard Jevon Carter.
Carter leads the Big 12 with 2.7 steals per game and is an inspiration for his teammates to live up to the Press Virginia name.
“Jevon’s got exceptional lateral quickness, but his work ethic and competitiveness are second to none,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “He puts an enormous time in at the gym and in the weight room to make sure he’s prepared to go.”
BEST SIXTH MAN: WEST VIRGINIA GUARD TARIK PHILLIP
West Virginia senior guard Tarik Phillip could have complained about not being in the starting lineup in his final season.
But he sees the value in depth especially on a team like West Virginia that often rotates 10 players to maintain the workload of its fullcourt press.
Phillip has been as good as a lot of starting players in the Big 12 as he’s averaged 9.2 points, 3.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game.