Anthony Mason Jr. has led the St. John’s University basketball team since his arrival as a freshman, led them in scoring at 15 points per game as a junior, shares a last name with one of the grittiest forwards in New York Knicks history - Queens product Anthony Mason is his father - and is the greatest hope for the incoming season.
A lot is, and has been, riding on the broad shoulders of the 6-foot-7 Mason.
But, that hasn’t changed the Memphis, TN product one bit. He is a student athlete in the purest form - an exemplary athlete and promising student. Last year, with a grade point average over 3.0, he was named to the Big East Conference’s All-Academic team, no small feat.
“He definitely has the ability to balance the demands of being a full-time student and full-time athlete,” Eric Rienecker, Director of Academic Support for Student-Athletes, said. “To get a student athlete of his caliber athletically to do all the things academically is impressive.”
Along with fellow senior Tomas Jasiulionis, Mason was allowed to bypass the mandatory tutoring and study hall sessions because of his solid standing in the classroom. The communications major, who would like to find himself behind the camera in some capacity one day, had others, players such as Daryll Hill and Ryan Williams, show him the way, finding the right balance between filling his role as an athlete and student. Finding enough time in the day, particularly during the season, was the toughest transition, he said, but one he managed well.
If he would’ve fallen off academically, it would have occurred last year, when the Red Storm, made several road trips including the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii. With his teammates, Mason made sure to get his work done, using any free time he could find to hit the books. He has also taken summer classes every year to make sure he would graduate on time. In fact, if he wanted to, Mason could earn his degree in three-and-a-half years, according to Rienecker.
“As long as you get your schedule down pat, you’ll be good,” Mason said. “You need to get your priorities in order, and you won’t have a problem. Girls and friends, going out, that’s all later.”
In addition to progressing as a student, Mason has developed by leaps and bounds on the court as well, building more than 12 pounds of muscle since the end of last season, and leading the team in two-a-days since June. He has also added dimensions to his offensive game, looking to attack the rim more often and score in transition to supplement his perimeter shooting.
“He’s got to not only be a guy that scores points, but we got to get him to score in different ways,” Coach Norm Roberts said. “He’s got to make himself more versatile, and not just rely on the jumpshot.”
“He’s realizing this is his year,” St. John’s strength and conditioning coach Robert Basile said.
Mason’s interests go beyond school and basketball. A former class clown who grew into the team joker, he wants to go into the field of production, in television, film or music.
A self-described “mafia-movie man,” Mason lists his favorite actors as Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and he’s also a Jim Carrey enthusiast. He is a fan of southern rap, most notably TI and Li’l Wayne. But, he would break into the field in any manner.
“I’d do anything,” he said, “country, rap, whatever it takes. Every time I listen to a song, I just visualize what’s going on.”
For now, he is visualizing a professional basketball career - hopefully, in the NBA one day, Mason said. It is a lifelong dream, one that a breakout senior year could aid.
“That’s what I came to college for,” he said. “This is what I’ve been playing my whole life for.”
An All-Big East honorable mention last season, Mason has approached this year with intense focus. The year is an important one for him and the Red Storm, who haven’t reached Big East Tournament three of the last four years.
“This is very important for St. John’s,” he said, “important for us, for the school, for the fans.”
Roberts is hopeful Mason could emerge as the go-to guy for the Johnnies. He has seen Mason develop as a player and a person.
“He understands now how tough the league is, what he has to do everyday,” the fourth-year coach said. “I think he’s as talented as anybody in the league.”
Mason likely won’t be around for the St. John’s resurgence, whenever that may be, but he is part of the group that will hopefully lay that foundation. While others, notably local products, have passed on the Jamaica school, criticized its location and campus, Mason has been around the school since June getting ready for the school and hoops year.
“It gets me excited for the season,” he said. “I can’t wait until it starts. I like it; it’s my college, it’s my school. I’ve been here three years. It’s fun being in New York, meeting all these different kinds of people, people who might help you in the future.”
Of course, there are those who tend to offer him pointers, and ways the program can improve. Mason doesn’t consider himself a celebrity - at least not yet - it’s just a part of his life as a student athlete at a Big East school.
“Every time you walk around, everybody’s got their input,” he said, smiling. But, it doesn’t bother him. In fact, he enjoys the comments, good and bad because it means that people are paying attention.
“It’s being an NCAA player,” he said. “There are a lot of fans.”