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July 30, 2009

Mason eager to help lift St. John's into tourney

This probably wasn't the way St. John's swingman Anthony Mason Jr. wanted to train for his potential television or film career.

Mason, an aspiring director, has spent the past year getting an up-close look at the filming process from the other side of the camera. Mason sat out nearly the entire 2008-09 season with a torn peroneal tendon in his right foot, and MTV has filmed his rehabilitation for an upcoming "True Life" documentary.

When MTV approached St. John's about the possibility of filming Mason's rehabilitation, he jumped at the opportunity. If a pro basketball career doesn't work out for him, Mason wants to direct movies, television shows or music videos. An air date for the documentary hasn't been announced.

"It gives you all these connections," said Mason, who is on track to graduate next year with a major in communications and a minor in television studies. "You've already got those names in your wallet. That's always good. I feel like it was a blessing this year, the people I met and the contacts I was able to make through that and other things."

Mason now would like to deliver the type of senior season that demands a sequel, complete with the typical Hollywood ending.

After leading St. John's with 14 points per game and earning honorable mention All-Big East honors two years ago, Mason could only sit and watch for most of last season as the Red Storm went 16-18 and lost in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational.

Mason now wants to end his career by helping St. John's earn its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2000.

"That's a realistic goal," said Mason, the son of former NBA forward Anthony Mason. "We can get to the NCAAs this year."

Recent history suggests it's a long shot. St. John's has posted just one winning record - a 16-15 campaign in 2006-07 - over the last six seasons. The Red Storm haven't cracked the NCAA field since 2002.

Mason said he believes the Red Storm turned a corner last season.

Point guard Malik Boothe missed nine games with a thumb injury. Power forward Justin Burrell played part of the year with a protective mask after fracturing bones in his faced. And Mason played just three games all season.

St. John's withstood all that adversity to earn its first postseason bid of any kind since winning the NIT in 2003.

"We were still able to get 16 wins," Mason said. "That's nothing to brag about, but it's a plus. It really gave us a confidence boost. You have to sit back and look at that. If we get four more wins, we win 20 games and everybody's talking about St. John's this and St. John's that."

The Red Storm return all five starters from that team while also welcoming Mason back into the lineup. Mason occasionally has wondered whether St. John's might have reached that 20-win mark if he hadn't been sidelined.

Mason underwent surgery in December and had cameras following him for the next several months. That made this a different kind of rehabilitation, but Mason never allowed the presence of the filmmakers to distract him as he attempted to work his way back to health.

"When I first heard cameras were going to be there, I thought there may be issues and that they could be in the way," said Joe Capobianco, a physical therapist and owner of Advanced S.P.O.R.T.S. who guided Mason through his rehabilitation. "But they weren't too intrusive. They didn't get in the way of his workouts."

Indeed, Mason has improved to the point that he is back on the court and playing at full speed. The oft-injured senior is capitalizing on the fact that he finally is healthy enough to work on his game for an entire summer.

Mason missed eight games with a high ankle sprain and a variety of other injuries in 2007-08. He struggled with a hand injury in 2006-07.

Now he finally is feeling better. His foot clearly isn't bothering him too much because Mason has emphasized driving to the basket more often during his summer workouts.

"You can't stand there and shoot jumpers all day," Mason said. "I want to be versatile, especially if I want to reach my own goal of playing in the league one day. I have to be a versatile player who can get to the rack and create for my teammates."

While he would like to follow his father into the NBA, Mason's more immediate goal is to close his college career in style by making St. John's basketball relevant on the national stage again.

The idea isn't so far-fetched.

After having three No. 1 seeds and two Final Four teams last season, the Big East seems headed for a year of transition. The conference's only returning all-league players from last season are first-team pick Luke Harangody of Notre Dame, second-team selection Da'Sean Butler of West Virginia and third-team choices Jeremy Hazell of Seton Hall and Deonta Vaughn of Cincinnati.

The relative lack of experience across the league could give St. John's and all of its returning starters an opportunity to deliver a Cinderella season and earn that elusive NCAA bid.

"It would mean so much to me to get this team back to the winning stage," Mason said. "It would be a fun experience, being in the big lights on CBS. To end my [career] like that would be a great experience. I would probably have a teary feeling."

Mason couldn't imagine a better final scene if he filmed it himself.


Arizona is offering its final farewells to former coach Lute Olson as it prepares to usher in the Sean Miller era. Arizona officials announced last week the creation of the Lute Olson Fund for Excellence in Men's Basketball. The first $100,000 in donations will be deposited into an endowment. Future donations will help pay for locker room renovations, weight room equipment and other items. Arizona also is holding a retirement celebration for Olson on Aug. 8 at the McKale Center. The event is free and open to the public. The tentative list of former players scheduled to participate in the ceremony includes Sean Elliott, Richard Jefferson, Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire and Luke Walton.

Arkansas recently released a non-conference schedule that includes an intriguing Nov. 17 teacher-vs.-pupil matchup with Louisville in St. Louis. Arkansas coach John Pelphrey played for Louisville coach Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Arkansas also has rematches with Texas and Oklahoma, which both lost to the Razorbacks last season. Pelphrey also will face his former team Nov. 29 when South Alabama comes to Arkansas.

Our recent recaps of the World University Games failed to mention the contributions of California center Max Zhang, who represented China and was one of the event's most productive performers. Zhang averaged 18.0 points, 17.3 rebounds and 5.6 blocks to lead all players in the latter two categories. He also recorded two triple-doubles in six games. Zhang, a 7-foot-3 sophomore and the tallest player in school history, averaged just 4.5 minutes per game for California as a redshirt freshman last season. He didn't start playing basketball until the age of 15.

The East Coast All-Stars, a team featuring college players from a variety of schools, will head overseas next week to play five games against European teams during a tour of the Czech Republic and Austria. The East Coast All-Stars team includes Rutgers guard Corey Chandler, Rutgers forward Patrick Johnson, Cleveland State center Joe Latas, Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen, Kansas State forward Dominique Sutton and West Virginia forward Cam Thoroughman.

Former USF coach Robert McCullum is heading back to the Sunshine State. McCullum, who posted a 40-76 record at USF from 2003-07, is joining Kirk Speraw's staff at UCF. The move reunites McCullum and Speraw, who worked together as assistants on Florida's 1994 Final Four team.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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