Rock Chalk Weekly: No Plan is the Best Plan

Written by Trae Green, Kansas Communications Student Assistant

You play the hand you’re dealt in this world. Cherishing the highs and riding out the lows, attempting to stay on the straight-and-narrow path while steering clear of the jagged-edges.
You can map each and every aspect of it and have a plan for every situation, yet somehow, life is always one step ahead. There to make a mockery of your incessant planning for an ideal future.
Life never goes the way that you plan for it to. Just ask Frank Mason III. He’ll sum it up nice and easy.
“Nope,” he said. “It sure doesn’t.”
A man of few words, and even fewer expressions, Mason is wise far beyond his life of two decades. What you see – the humble and oft softspoken person – is what you get all of the time. Especially in terms of basketball.
To Mason, basketball is an oasis. It always has been. It was something that never failed to alleviate the stresses of each twist and turn in life which he had been inclined to endure.
For the last three years, though, basketball has become much more than just a temporary getaway from everyday problems. Basketball used to just be an obsession because it took him away from the heavy weight of reality. Now, every carefully constructed basketball, and life, decision isn’t made in just his best interests anymore.
It’s the classic argument that so many young boys partake in around elementary school playgrounds across the country. The debate with no winner, no loser, hardly ever comes to the fruition of actually playing out.
That doesn’t hinder kids, who are still a few birthdays away from adolescence, from engaging proudly in the dispute that their dad can beat anyone else’s dad.
Even at three-years old, Amari Mason knows that in a game of basketball played one-on-one, his dad could beat just about anyone else – and not even smile while doing it.
If he hits a game-winning shot or turns the ball over at a crucial time, sure the elder Mason will visibly react to it in the heat of the moment – who wouldn’t? But, a minute later, whatever glimpse of emotion he let loose is harnessed and stored back internally because there’s always something else coming next.
“That’s the way I’ve been my whole life since I’ve been playing,” Mason said. “I’ll be happy inside, but I kind of figure that basketball is what I’m supposed to do, so I don’t really show emotion. I just go out there and do it.”
It’s not that he doesn’t smile. Mason is happy to share his list of ways that life’s been good to him.
“My son,” Mason said as his eyes light up. “My teammates and coaches. A lot makes me smile, I just don’t smile often.”
There it is – a smile.
Never one to brag about his abilities – let alone smile over them – Mason will turn even the slightest question geared toward generating a response of self-praise into self-deprecation. He looks ahead rather than settling in order to identify the areas he needs improvement, which will provide the most reliable avenue for him to comfortably provide for his family. 
“This season, I definitely feel like I’ve been becoming a leader and a special player to this team,” Mason said, but quickly added, “I still think I can get a lot better with becoming a better leader, a better teammate and just a better person.”
Reservedness is misunderstood. Stepping off of the hardwood, Mason is the same as he is wearing a jersey between the lines. He’ll only speak after he has chosen the perfect set of phrases that translate his point in the shortest, most direct way possible. He nearly always wears the same focused, determined look that’s constantly calculating the best way to react to the next situation.
“People don’t know the real me, who I am and what I stand for,” Mason explained. “I think if they really get to know me outside of basketball and off of the court, they’ll really find out that I’m a different person.”
Sometimes people misinterpret Mason’s serious demeanor as a trait of unapproachability, selfishness or unfriendliness.
That’s not the case at all – that’s just the way it’s always been.
Growing up in Petersburg, Virginia, there wasn’t a whole lot to smile about most of the time.
This is the place where Mason learned to channel his emotions by floating with the highs while they lasted and fighting through the lows with the willpower that things wouldn’t stay down forever.
Sure, there were great memories and things Mason wouldn’t trade the world for; his relationship with his mother and seven siblings and the molding of his life after learning what type of person to strive to become from those around him.
“I’m easy to get along with,” Mason said of himself. “I’m very cool and a humble person. I like to help others out. I really like to make others happy before I even make myself happy.”
Unfortunately, there were also things that happened that he was faced with no other choice but to accept and move on from.
“It was kind of rough early on in my life,” Mason reluctantly revealed. “We’re close now, but for a while, I didn’t have my dad around. It was just my mother and my seven siblings. The environment I was in and the neighborhood with the kind of people I grew up around… They were bad influences.”
The negative aspects of being raised in the circumstances he was forced to withstand trickled into the lives of those he was close to and attempted to envelop Mason as well.
“There was always a lot of violence going on,” Mason solemnly explained. “There were different people I used to hang around who didn’t really have much going for themselves that were always in trouble.”
Fortunately, the positive influence of his mother, Sharon Harrison, stood in the way of the negativity in his life.
“We have a very strong relationship,” Mason said of his mother. “She keeps me up and motivated. She always is telling me the right things and she helps me out a lot in life with small things or big things.”
He also attributed the time commitment he made to pursue basketball as a key to avoiding the all too familiar ways of life.
“I just always played basketball,” Mason said. “I was always gone on the weekends for different Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournaments.”
During his high school playing days at Petersburg High, Mason led the state in scoring in 2011 at 27.4 points per game and again in 2012 at 27.1 points per contest. In all, he tallied 1,901 points during his four-year Petersburg career, second only to NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone in PHS history.
With both the exposure to talent scouts and collegiate coaches, as well as the concealment from previous influences, the weekly basketball tournaments and high school success had provided Mason a ticket to a better place.
Or so he thought. Until life intervened once again.
As a senior in high school, Mason had signed away his talents to play at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland, which is a little over three hours from his hometown of Petersburg.
At the time what seemed to be a curse turned out to be a blessing. Academically, Mason was not yet equipped to get into college. Displaying that admirable never quit attitude, Mason made the most of the shortcoming and enrolled for a year of prep school at Massanutten Military Academy back home in Virginia.
He picked up right were he left off and once again dominated on the floor in helping the Colonels finish 30-4 and advance to the National Prep Championship Elite Eight.
After another season of AAU tournaments Mason had caught the eye of a college basketball giant who loved his persistent attitude and undersized tenacity.
The rest was history. He was headed to Kansas.
Kansas was the best fit for Mason. Its top-tier exposure, facilities, competition, coaching staff and academic support would provide nearly everything he would need to fulfill his goals and dreams of creating the best life for his family.
Even with all of the benefits of going halfway across the nation to the state of Kansas, the pain of leaving his son and all those close to him was nearly unbearable. His distance home from Massanutten Military Academy was only a day’s trip, not several.
“I just want to be a great dad,” Mason confessed. “I want to be the best dad I can be just doing the right things by being there for my son and helping his mom out the best way I can even though I’m far away. Now, I just try to do all of the little things to make sure he’s happy and that he doesn’t ever have to worry about wanting or needing anything.”
From the day he found out he was going to be a dad to the minute he watched his son enter into the world, Mason had always been there for Amari, even though finding out he was going to be a father was the happiest – and – scariest moment of his life.
“I definitely felt that way,” Mason recalled of being afraid. “I was kind of happy, but I was also nervous about being a father at the same time. I didn’t really know what to do or how to think. I was just shocked.”
Just asking him what he was thinking while he witnessed his son’s birth renders Mason speechless to the extent of saying, “I can’t describe it… I really can’t even describe it. It was amazing to me.”
But still, Amari on his mind, Kansas was the best option.
“The tradition. The program, it’s a top-five school in the country, so that was pretty much it,” Mason said.
The lore of possibilities that Kansas held were too much to turn down. At most, four temporary years of, ‘I miss you’s,’ would have to be endured for a shot at the greater good.
“I always put Amari first,” Mason explained. “I can’t just think for myself, I have to think of things to do to make his life better. I try to be the best person I can for him to have a successful life.”
Even with the greater goal in mind, his freshman year was tough. It was much more unbearable than anticipated for Mason, who has so much pride in being a great father and being there every chance he can.
The transition from being near home to moving halfway across the country was hard. The distance from not only his son, but his mother as well, was one of the toughest things he had to persevere through.
“I’ve been getting over it,” he said. “It was a struggle early on last year, but it kind of got better as the year went on. This year, I adjusted to it pretty well.”
Despite nearly 17 hours and 1,130 miles of distance between them, Amari and his father still see each other just about every day through a digital screen on FaceTime.
These are the moments that Mason wouldn’t trade for anything. A self-professed down-player of his emotions, Mason radiantly lights up when talking about Amari.
“I think he looks like me,” Mason laughed and then said, “He has a big head like me. I think his attitude is kind of the same as mine.”
The similarities don’t just end at appearance either.
“He’s into everything,” Mason beamed. “He’s all over the place. I think he’s really into basketball and football like I was. He does a lot of things that just make me think, ‘Wow, maybe that’s how I was at that age’.”
One thing is for sure, not even four years-old yet, Amari has already picked up his dad’s skills with handling the basketball.
“He’s running around dribbling two basketballs at the same time,” Mason proudly exclaimed. “There are people that are my age that can’t even do that. It’s really amazing to see him do those things.”
One thing Mason cherishes about the opportunity he has been awarded by playing in front of such a passionate fan base is all of the admirers he has gained of all ages across the board, but in particular the ones that are around the same age as his little boy.
A countless number of little kids proudly don their children’s size No. 0 jersey and wear an arm sleeve trying their best to impersonate Kansas’ lead guard.
“It’s amazing,” Mason said of being a child’s idol. “I never really thought I would’ve been in that position. I knew I was capable of being in that position, but I never really thought it would happen this soon. It’s amazing to be in that position to have kids look up to you because of basketball. It definitely motivates me to be a better person, a better leader and to be the best person I can be.”
There is one impersonator that he adores more than all others though.
“Amari has a whole Jayhawk uniform with the shorts and the jersey,” Mason smiled and said. “He really thinks he’s me.”
It gets better.
“When he’s dribbling and playing basketball, he’ll just randomly tell people, ‘My dad’s name is Frank Mason and he plays for The Kansas Jayhawks. He’s number zero. I’m going to play for The Kansas Jayhawks.’ When he says things like that, they catch me off guard. I can’t even really describe the feeling. It’s just crazy to me to hear him say those things.”
As it turns out, Mason is a good choice to model a style of game after.
On March 4, the Kansas men’s basketball team found itself in a rare spot with just over three minutes to play inside Allen Fieldhouse – the basketball venue where opposing teams’ dreams of victory rarely come true.
However, this night was different. A tenacious West Virginia team gave KU just about as much as it could handle. Trailing by eight points with three and a half minutes to play, the Jayhawks were in search of a hero to guide them to another unblemished home record on the season, and more importantly, the promise-land of an 11th-straight Big 12 Conference title.
Just as it had turned to him all season long, Kansas once again put the ball in the hands of Mason who delivered with four points on blow-by drives to the basket in the last 48 seconds, cutting the Mountaineer lead to one point. Mason’s layups led to the game-tying free throws that sent the contest to overtime. 
In the extra time, Mason scored KU’s last eight points, including a perfect 6-of-6 effort from the free throw line. The hero led his team to a seven-point, 76-69, come-from-behind victory to cinch up the program’s unprecedented 11th-straight regular-season conference championship.
For the first time all night, Mason allowed himself to crack a smile during the cutting of the nets and the presentation of the championship trophy along with the t-shirts and hats that commemorated the accomplishment.
As usual for Mason, the celebration was short-lived. The smile quickly faded and returned to the same look of focus and determination. Of course he enjoyed the moment and he loves to compete and win, but championships aren’t the only thing he is chasing.
“I know right now I can’t be near him,” Mason said. “But, it’s going to affect him in the long run with me being in school and doing the thing I love. I’m just trying to work around that and do the right things so Amari can have a better life than me.”

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