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Skyline’s Mason Schmitz dunks the ball during first-half action against Warren County last season. Schmitz is one of the area’s top returning scorers this season.

FRONT ROYAL – Mason Schmitz didn’t play organized basketball until he was in seventh grade, but most of his basketball experience has come from playing street ball on different playgrounds throughout Front Royal.

The Skyline senior said that he used to play with his dad and other older people

“We played with people (my dad’s) age a lot,” Schmitz said. “That competition really drove me to where I am now. My love of the game came from going to the courts like (Chimney Field Park), Criser (Road) and Bing Crosby Stadium. My skill, a lot of it definitely derived from streetball.”

Skyline boys basketball coach Harold Chunn said he remembers seeing Schmitz when he was younger playing with his cousin and fellow Skyline senior Donte Porter on the local playgrounds.

Chunn said even when Schmitz was younger he was making impressive moves, but now he’s made them even better.

“(Schmitz) does a lot of things that you don’t see a lot of high school kids doing at his age,” Chunn said. “I’ve watched him grow up. I’ve watched him play on the playground. He was actually doing those moves as a little kid, 8, 9 years old. He’s doing the same moves, but he made himself better. He made those moves better.”

Schmitz said that he learned a lot from playing on the playground with older people, his dad and his older brother, Eric King, who also played at Skyline.

This season, Schmitz is excited to play with Porter, who transferred this year from Warren County.

“We both drove each other because we used to compete all the time,” Schmitz said of Porter. “I wouldn’t be here without that competition from my own cousin. Having him on the team this year, I feel like we already have that chemistry there. So I feel a lot more comfortable having him on the court next to me.”

Schmitz said that even though he now plays a lot of organized basketball, he still tries to play pick-up games on the playground whenever he can.

He said at times most of Skyline’s team will go out and play a pick-up game together on a playground.

“Even coach Chunn goes out there too and watches us,” Schmitz said. “We’ll go out there and play around. We’re serious. We still take it serious out there. No one likes to take a loss out there.”

Schmitz said playing with older kids growing up probably helped him prepare for playing for Skyline’s varsity team as a freshman. Schmitz was a starter that year and played with older players such as Skyline graduates Ty Clingerman, Dylan Allison and Marcel Roy.

“Once freshman year hit and I started with them I was so comfortable,” Schmitz said. “I wasn’t nervous before games. I wasn’t shaking. I would just go out there and know that I had four other players who would back me up.”

As a freshman, Schmitz averaged 8 points, 2.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. He was fourth in the area in field goal percentage at 55.9% (71-for-127).

Schmitz’s game continued to grow over the years. As a sophomore, Schmitz averaged 11.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per contest. He shot 46% (108-for-235) from the field.

Last year, Schmitz averaged 17.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.4 steals per game. He shot 47.5% (77-for-162) from the field.

Part of the key to Schmitz’s game is that he has versatility. The 6-foot guard can play multiple positions.

“Mason, he’s just that guy, he can handle the ball up front,” Chunn said. “He can bring the ball up the court. He can go slash and cut. He can even go post you up. Sometimes at practice, we’ll separate bigs and guards and he’ll come down with the bigs and do post moves.”

Schmitz said his favorite position is point guard.

“I like handling the ball and bringing it up, setting up and directing the flow – that’s fun,” he said. “I like driving rather than shooting. I think that’s my best ability, because I can create. Even if I don’t have an open shot, I can definitely dish off to like (Skyline senior Marion) ‘Budder’ (Haley) or (Skyline junior) Marlon (Jackson) or (Skyline sophomore) Elias (Carter) and they can definitely score the bucket.”

Another aspect of the game Schmitz likes is dunking. In a game against Brentsville last season, Schmitz had five dunks. He said he was motivated in the second half after Skyline assistant coach and Skyline graduate Andrew Thorne told him that Thorne’s school record was seven.

“It was kind of like a competition,” Schmitz said of his five dunks. “I was kind of trying to get the record. That game was really fun. We had a good time. I don’t think we took it as serious as we should have, but we did have a good time. I think that’s what really matters, having fun on the court. That was a different feeling getting that many dunks. I didn’t think that would happen. All of my teammates were cheering for me. Coach Chunn was loving it. That was a real good time for sure.”

Chunn said that one of the things that stands out about Schmitz is his basketball IQ. Chunn said that he’s smart and makes good decisions on the basketball court.

Chunn said Schmitz is also a natural leader for the team.

“He just makes everybody else around him better,” Chunn said. “He’s a great leader. He leads the practices. He gets them fired up and he gets them fired up in the game.”

Schmitz said he is still undecided about college, but he would like to play at the next level. For this season, he said he just wants to help lead the Hawks to a state title.

Skyline advanced to the Region 3B semifinals and lost to eventual state semifinalist Central. The Hawks return most of their squad and have added Warren County transfers Carter and Porter.

The first game is scheduled for Dec. 21 at Brentsville.

“I’m fully confident we can win a championship,” Schmitz said. “Region, district (championships) would be nice, but I can’t stay content with that. I want a state championship, for sure. That’s the ultimate goal for any high school player, especially if you have a lot of passion for the game. This is family to me. So doing it with these players for my last year here – that’s the ultimate goal.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com