The Kansas Jayhawks started this season with their eyes set firmly on the goal of winning a National Championship. The team lost to Villanova in an incredibly dramatic NCAA Regional Final last season, but brought back two starting guards, some bench pieces, and got an incredible influx of new talent featuring star freshman Josh Jackson. The team started the season with a thrilling loss to Indiana, where both teams emerged looking more like contenders no matter who won or lost.
Since then Kansas has looked as dominant as all of the pundits expected who voted them Big 12 favorites. With three weeks gone in the season and a month before conference play begins, one Jayhawk player has emerged to provide the leadership and strong performances that have defined their early season: guard Frank Mason III.
Mason's backstory is different than most of this year's premiere players. Mason hails from Virginia and had committed to Towson, a small school in Maryland, in his senior year of high school, but a failing grade in a government course prevented him from going. Enter the Jayhawks. Mason went to Kansas having never played point guard before, and had to gradually ease into the role while competing with other guards on the roster. After several years of seasoning and experience in big games, you'd never know he had arrived on campus with such inexperience as the on-court general.
Against Indiana in the aforementioned dramatic opener, Mason carried the team in the final five minutes and into overtime, hitting tough shot after tough shot, finishing with 30 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds.
But the heroics didn't stop with that performance. In KU’s next game against Duke at Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic, Mason hit the winning shot with 1.8 seconds left to defeat, at that time, the #1 team in the country. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game that Mason "has the face of a leader." Only once this season has Mason finished with fewer than 18 points, and that was a laugher against Long Beach State where a strong performance was not required.
The Jayhawks don't figure to be challenged much for the remainder of non-conference play, so Mason will be relied on less for heroic comebacks and more for leadership in the fight against complacency. If he can keep his teammates focused on putting one win after another and building towards the NCAA Tournament, March could provide a much happier ending for Kansas than it did last season.