KU hoops standout Mason reflects on prep year spent at MMA

Frank Mason

WOODSTOCK – Before he was a Kansas Jayhawk, before he swept every major men’s college basketball national player of the year award, Frank Mason III spent a year honing his hoops skills and putting things together off the court at a small boarding school nestled in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley.

Mason, a native of Petersburg, a city of about 30,000 people located 25 miles south of Richmond, never envisioned he would one day find himself the student at a military school. And yet, in 2012, a series of circumstances led him to Woodstock’s Massanutten Military Academy, where a postgraduate basketball team was becoming a prep hoops powerhouse under head coach Chad Myers.

It was the during summer of that year and the subsequent school year he spent at MMA that changed the course of Mason’s future. As he moved on to bigger and better things at Kansas, Mason always knew he would one day return to the Valley, to the school he said had a profound impact on his life and his basketball career.

That moment came last Friday, when he revisited Woodstock for the first time since graduating from Massanutten Military Academy in the spring of 2013. His return was complete with a ceremony to honor the retiring of Mason’s No. 3 Colonels jersey, which preceded Q&A and autograph sessions with a crowd of people in attendance inside the school’s Memorial Gymnasium. And it brought the last five years of Mason’s basketball career full circle.

“This was the best thing that ever happened to him,” Mason’s father, Frank II, said Friday in reference to the Woodstock school, gesturing across the lawn that separates MMA’s gymnasium from Route 11, “because the structure was very important and that carried to Kansas. This right here, really, this was like the catalyst to it all.”

Massanutten Military Academy prep basketball coach Chad Myers, left, greets Frank Mason III as he returned to the academy last Friday to have his jersey retired. Rich Cooley/Daily

By now Mason’s exploits at KU have been well documented, how a four-year college basketball career culminated in a barrage of postseason accolades – which included the John R. Wooden Award and the James A. Naismith Trophy, both awarded annually to the top player in college basketball – at the end of the point guard’s senior year this past season.

But to truly appreciate Mason’s accomplishments, its necessary to understand all of the twists and turns that led him to this point.

Lightly recruited out of Petersburg High School, where he led the Crimson Wave to a runner-up finish in the Virginia High School League Group AAA state championship game as a senior in 2012, Mason earned a scholarship offer from – and signed with – Towson University during his senior year of high school. But he never made it there.

Mason learned two weeks before he was scheduled to graduate high school that he had narrowly failed a government class, making him academically ineligible to start college that fall.

“I was devastated by that,” Mason said. “But I think that made me who I am. It helped me become more responsible, just helped me to take care of business and not depend on anyone. Get everything done on my own.”

Former Massanutten Millitary Academy prep standout Frank Mason III takes questions during a special appearance Friday evening at his former prep school during the 2012-2013 season. Mason, who finished his senior year at University of Kansas, received nine national player of the year awards. Rich Cooley/Daily

That failing grade set in motion the route that would lead Mason to stardom at Kansas, a route that wound right through Woodstock.

A week before learning Mason would need to spend a year at prep school if he hoped to continue pursuing his basketball aspirations, Massanutten Military Academy coincidentally had a roster spot open up at point guard when Corban Collins committed to LSU for the 2012-13 school year, Myers said. Mason, who said MMA was “the only option for me,” joined the Colonels shortly afterward.

That summer, while competing in the AAU circuit at the Las Vegas Fab 48 prior to his arrival at MMA, Mason caught the attention of Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, who was on hand to scout another point guard and instead left the gymnasium impressed by what he’d seen out of the 5-foot-11 Petersburg product.

By the time Mason began competing for Massanutten Military Academy in the fall of 2012, he had begun to draw more interest from major NCAA Division I programs, and Myers began fielding the same question from college coaches in regard to Mason: “Is he good enough to play for us?”

Myers recalled one instance when a version of that question came from the lips of KU head coach Bill Self.

“I said Coach, if Frank Mason doesn’t end up starting for you then that means you’ve got a really, really good point guard, because he’s gonna fight, he’s gonna try to battle and he’s gonna try to beat the guy out every day,” Myers said. “I said even if he’s a freshman All-American, top five player in the country, (Mason is) gonna make that guy miserable every day.”

Mason sold Self and the Jayhawks on his ability and signed with KU in November 2012 before leading MMA to its first ever No. 1 national ranking and its second straight appearance in the invitation-only National Prep Championship Elite 8.

And while the extra summer of AAU ball and the added prep season helped boost Mason’s national exposure, his time spent going through the daily routine of military school improved his life off the court.

“I think it just helped my character, just me being more organized with things,” Mason said. “Just being a better man in general. It helped me out in so many different ways, being responsible.”

Mason will graduate from KU next month with a degree in liberal arts and sciences, a feat that he said best defines his four years at Kansas – more than his 11 national player of the year awards, his 1,885 career points or his 576 assists (both of which rank sixth on the Jayhawks’ all-time list).

Mason, who averaged 20.9 points and 5.2 assists per game as a senior this past season, said his next step on the basketball court will be the NBA combine that precedes June’s NBA Draft.

Much still lies ahead for Mason, but as he leaned against a pillar outside Massanutten Military Academy’s Memorial Gymnasium last Friday evening, watching people eager to meet the nation’s top college basketball player file through the building’s doors, he took time to reflect back on a path that included a career-defining stop in Woodstock during the 2012-13 school year.

“It’s surreal, man,” Mason said. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling. It’s just something I look back on and (can) really be proud of.

“(Basketball) definitely helped me become the man I am today. It’s helped me to become a better father and put my son in better situations and more opportunities for him,” added Mason, whose son, Amari, turns 6 years old on Friday. “It’s just great. It’s taking me all over the world, so it’s something I’ll always be thankful for. I just have to say I’m blessed.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com