FRAZER TOWNSHIP — It’s been a “whirlwind” year for Micah Mason. At this time in 2016, Mason was still setting records as the best 3-point shooter in the history of Duquesne basketball. Just a few months later, Mason has decided to transition from player to coach, working with the next generation at Mason Elite Hoops, the training facility he runs with his father located inside the Pittsburgh Mills Mall.
Mason finished his Dukes career with a 45.8 shooting percent from beyond the 3-point arc, a Duquesne record and not far from an NCAA mark, as well. While the Dukes never finished above .500 in conference play in his three seasons on the bluff, Mason’s talents were in demand when he graduated last spring.
But the options for post-collegiate players aren’t great in basketball. There is the NBA Development League, which gives players the opportunity to potentially advance while staying in the United States. But the pay is poor and there is no guarantee of a future payoff. Most players in Mason’s situation take a different route, heading overseas for a guaranteed paycheck and the chance to play for a long time at high level.
That’s the path Mason chose, signing a two-year contract with the Antwerp Giants, a Belgian powerhouse that has many other North American imports. But after just a few months in Europe, it was obvious to Mason that it wasn’t going to work out. Being overseas meant that he had no custody of his son, Isaiah, who is now 18 months old. If he were to return to the states, though, he would be able to share custody and be a father. That made the decision a no-brainer, and Mason walked away from his contract in November to come home.
“I didn’t feel that I wanted to continue to play and watch him grow up here without me, so I decided I just wanted to come home and be close to him,” Mason said. “I couldn’t get any time with him overseas because of custody issues. Here, I have him 50-50 and I love it. … My son is the most important thing to me. He changed my life. He’s humbled me.”
While deciding that he wanted to be there for his son was an easy decision to make, it also meant that at 23, the career that Mason had been preparing for since grade school was over. Luckily, Mason’s father, John, had opened the a training academy while Micah was in college. Now, Micah works there alongside his father, training the next generation of basketball players in the Allegheny Valley. The transition hasn’t always been easy, but it has been rewarding.
“When I knew I was leaving Belgium, I knew this would be my job,” Micah Mason said. “Your career is over in one night. I thought I would be over in Europe playing until I was 30. It still was a big hit to everything. I was just so used to playing basketball all day. My whole life was basketball. Now, I’m starting to see that there’s actually life outside of basketball. It’s crazy.”
There’s no question that Mason was — and still is — and incredible 3-point shooter. But is that something that can be taught and successfully passed on, or is it a God-given gift? Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry thinks the answer is obvious.
“He was taught that,” Ferry said. “What people don’t realize about Micah is that he was taught the right way to play basketball. He had a great feel for the game. His dad, obviously, taught him well. Micah was trained at a young age. If you look at how tight his shooting mechanics was, from his toes to his fingertips, how tight it was and how nothing ever changed, that was a disciplined routine from a disciplined person that had obviously taken thousands and thousands of reps.
“My dad trained me since I was five years old,” Micah added. “We have a shooting machine and I’ve shot over 5,000 shots in a day on it. I shot 60,000 in one summer. So, I’ve been trained up.”
So like John Mason once spent hours in the gym working with Micah, they’ll now work together, polishing another group of young basketball players. It’s fitting that a journey that started with his desire to be a better father has brought Micah closer to his own.
“It’s special for me and I know it’s special for him,” Micah said. “The bad is that he thinks he knows everything. He does know a lot. But he tries to still tell me what to do. I don’t always take it too well. But working with him is awesome because he does know the game of basketball so well and it’s just fun to look up at my dad, who taught me, and now I’m a partner with him. We’re here every night training kids — what we did our whole life.”
The opportunity to join the coaching ranks has also reunited Mason with Ferry, who
in his fifth year at Duquesne, now has the has the honor of having some of his graduates return to the basketball community as something other than players.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things in coaching,” Ferry said. “As a competitor, it’s the practices and the game, but as a coach and as a father, it’s when they leave you and become successful. When I get text message and phone call from my former players on Father’s Day and Christmas, that’s really special.
“I have those relationships from my other programs. I have those guys that are playing professionally or are professionals. Facebook and Twitter helps that stuff. Now, I finally have that couple of classes that I’ve coached here. I think it’s the same thing. We run this program like a family. We treat these guys like part of our family and I think they really respect that, all the kids, from the freshmen to the seniors to the graduates. It’s part of our job to help these guys develop into men and be like Micah — be ready to take on responsibilities in the real world. It makes us feel good when they’re doing well.”
Mason agreed that in some ways, this new endeavor is even more meaningful than the one that saw him score 1,269 points in three years at Duquesne.
“I think this is more powerful,” Mason said. “I worked hard and accomplished a lot of my goals, but now it’s me giving it to the next generation. I love it. It’s a blessing that I can stay around the game and help others, not only for basketball, but to be a role model in these kids lives, as well. It’s not just basketball. … I’m just blessed to still be around the game of basketball in a different way. It’s a different look for me, but it’s still awesome.”
So with four months of his training under their belts, is the WPIAL poised to see a barrage of 3-point virtuosos in the Mason form?
“Not yet,” Mason said.
But Ferry thinks it’s only a matter of time.
“NCAA won’t allow us [to scout there], but maybe Micah will give us the heads up on who is the next one coming,” he joked.