Rock Chalk Weekly: Fight or Flight
Written by Erica Mings, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Fight or flight. A natural instinct that most living things possess in order to avoid or protect themselves from danger or harm. Human beings possess many different basic instincts that allow them to move forward, persevere and most importantly, survive.
When a boxer or wrestler is in the ring, there will come a point in time when they will have to decide if they want to continue or if they need to tap out and end the fight. Until that moment happens, the opponent is going to continue to give it their all until the round is over, or eventually the fight. Fear is a natural instinct and if one is willing to fight, they can’t be afraid to take a punch. The instinct to hold on and fight to the finish isn’t hard wired in everyone. Still, a decision needs to be made—fight or flight.
Many people are faced with situations in their lives where they have to choose to stand and fight, or run in the opposite direction. Frank Mason III is a fighter. The world is his boxing ring and life is his opponent.
Born in Petersburg, Virginia, Mason is one of eight children. As a child growing up in Petersburg, Mason found himself surrounded by violence and negative influences. He and his friends were constantly in trouble.
“I used to always get in trouble when I was younger,” Mason said. “I had a lot of friends who were up to no good.”
Mason could have easily become a statistic. He could have lived a life full of handcuffs and criminal records. He could have given up, but quitting was not in his nature.
In the third grade, Mason began to fight those negative influences and basketball was his right hook. He began playing and traveling with an AAU basketball team, where he learned discipline and to channel his energy into something positive.
Mason made the decision to be better. He wasn’t going to allow the life he was born into define the type of person he would become.
Mason’s mom, Sharon Harrison, was his support system growing up. Harrison was constantly encouraging her son to get up every day and fight for what he wants. The example she set by getting up and going to work every day to provide for her family is something that stuck with Mason. He knew he wanted to grow up to be a basketball player and his mom showed him the way. She taught him to believe in himself.
“She always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be,” Mason said. “She would tell me to get up every day and do the right things and live the right way so I could be what I wanted to be in life.”
Mason soaked in everything his mom taught him. He won that round.
Mason went on to play basketball for Petersburg High School in his hometown. There, Mason excelled on the court, scoring 1,901 points during his four-year career. Mason turned out to be one of the highest career point scorers at Petersburg High School history, coming in second only to NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone. Mason led the state in scoring in 2011 and 2012, averaging more than 27 points per game.
This round seemed to be going Mason’s way. He led the Crimson Wave to two state championship appearances and a combined 78-4 record from 2009-12. His dreams of playing college basketball seemed to be right at his fingertips. Mason signed to play at Towson University his senior year in high school, but life threw him a blow that he didn’t see coming. Before the ink could even dry, the road that would have led him to Towson was completely destroyed. Mason was deemed ineligible to play college basketball because of his grades.
This was a defining moment in Mason’s life. A moment when that fight or flight instinct would kick in. It was the end of round two, but the fight wasn’t over.
“I told myself I can’t give up,” Mason said. “I need to keep fighting.”
Mason’s indisputable toughness and fortitude caught the attention of one the most historic programs in college basketball—the Kansas Jayhawks. Assistant coach Kurtis Townsend went to an AAU basketball game with his eyes set on Jordan McLaughlin, a basketball player from the Los Angeles area. Little did he know, 5-foot 10-inch guard Frank Mason III, would steal the show.
“I went to watch Jordan, and Frank totally dominated him, and guarded him and controlled the whole game.” Townsend said.
In awe of Mason’s toughness, Townsend knew he needed to learn more about this young man. He decided to call Mason’s AAU coach Ty White.
“Does that kid play like that all the time?” Townsend asked coach White. “Is he really that tough?”
Coach White let Coach Townsend know that playing with that kind of toughness and tenacity was a normal thing for Mason, and he put forth that same effort every day. Coach Townsend wanted to see for himself so he attended another game.
“I went and watched him again, Townsend said. “He did the exact same thing.
Coach Townsend learned about Mason needing to go to prep school because he couldn’t qualify with his grades, but it didn’t deter him. He knew Mason had something special.
“I told Coach White, if Frank goes to prep school I’m going to recruit him,” Townsend said.
Mason’s “never-give-up attitude” allowed him to claim another victory that round.
Mason, still fighting for his dream of one day playing college basketball, enrolled in Massanutten Military Academy, a college preparatory school in Woodstock, Virginia, following his senior year at Petersburg High. As he fought to bring up his grades, Mason became a standout on the basketball court. He let everyone know he was here to stay and he was going to win this fight when posted 50 points on 16-of-21 shooting during the 804 All-Star Game at Benedictine College Preparatory in June of 2012.
Mason went on to help the Colonels finish 30-4 and advance to the National Prep Championship Elite Eight, where they lost in overtime to eighth-ranked Notre Dame Prep. He earned the attention of colleges like Kansas, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Louisville and Rutgers. Towson was a thing of the past. Coach Townsend continued to recruit Mason throughout his time at Massanutten, and developed a relationship with him.
“He reminded me of a little bit smaller Sherron Collins,” Townsend said.
After initially not qualifying academically, Mason could have thrown in the towel on the idea of college and continuing his basketball career. Life knocked Mason down, but the idea of not getting back up never crossed his mind. Quitting was not an option for Mason.
“There hasn’t been one situation where I thought about quitting,” Mason said. “I think that’s what drives me to be the person I am today. No matter what the situation is I try my hardest and give my best effort so that I can get through it.”
That’s exactly what Mason did, and before he knew it, he was a Jayhawk. He was going to play basketball in one of college basketball’s most historic venues—Allen Fieldhouse.
“Frank came on his visit and he wanted to commit,” Townsend said. “We got him.”
That round also goes to Mason.
Mason is more than halfway through his college basketball career and has become a powerhouse on the court. He has appeared in more than 90 games for the Jayhawks and started for most of them. His fearlessness and fighting spirit have become obvious to all those who have seen him play. He’s not afraid to get in there and get physical with the biggest and best. He’s fearless.
“He has a presence about him,” Perry Ellis said. “He’s a tough guy that’s going to compete every play. He’s definitely one of the leaders. He, Devonte and Wayne are probably the most vocal on the team.
Mason’s drive—his instinct to fight to the finish—couldn’t have been more apparent than it was on January 4, 2016 when the Kansas Jayhawks battled the Oklahoma Sooners for the opportunity call themselves number one in the national polls. The Jayhawks and Sooners battled it out in an epic triple-overtime game that left the Kansas Jayhawks victorious.
With less than 20 seconds left in the third overtime, Oklahoma had the ball and the lead, 106-105. To some, the game was over. Not Mason. It’s moments like that one that define people. In moments like that, people’s true colors begin to show. Was it time to step up and fight? Or was it time to bow out—flight? Mason new what he had to do.
Mason went on the attack, forcing a turnover which allowed teammate Devonté Graham to draw a foul. Graham’s free throws thrust Kansas into the lead by one point, but Mason knew the fight was not over. With 11 seconds left in the triple-overtime game, Oklahoma was attempting to inbound the ball for a chance at the game-winning shot, but Mason refused to back down. He forced another turnover and in the process drew a foul. Those free throws made by Mason gave Kansas the 109-106 win.
“When he’s out going as hard as he can on the court, we notice and it ups our game,” Ellis said. “He did that the Oklahoma game being a fighter on defense.”
Mason’s life has been full of battles like this one.
“Frank is from a really, really tough background,” Townsend said. “Any time kids come out of that and survive life, getting on the court and being tough is easy. I don’t think anything life throws at him will be too tough for him to handle.”
This round was different, as he had more than his friends and family rooting for him. He had some of the most loyal fans in college basketball in his corner giving him the extra boost he needed to continue fighting, which every Jayhawk player feels when they set foot inside Allen Fieldhouse on a gameday.
“We really appreciate the effort and support they [fans] bring to this wonderful, amazing place,” Mason said. “They definitely bring out the fight in me. This place is packed every game and it makes the game more fun, more exciting.”
As far as his instinct to fight for any and everything he wants, Mason says it’s what carried him through life up to this point and it will continue to carry him through the rest of his life.
“I think that no matter what you do in life, you should never give up,” Mason said. “Always believe in yourself and have fight. It can get you through anything.”
As far as his boxing match with life, Mason has his opponent up against the ropes and he plans to keep it that way. He knows life will continue to try and knock him down, but he plans do what he does best—fight.
“I would say I’m probably in the fourth or fifth round,” Mason said. “I have a long way to go and a lot of improvements to make, but I plan on fighting the whole way.”
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