Gorman: There's no denying Micah Mason
Micah Mason has seen every imaginable defense, from a box-and-one to a triangle-and-two, that it seems every game is a lesson in geometry and overcoming odds stacked toward stopping him.
It hasn't prevented the Highlands senior point guard from leading the WPIAL in scoring for the second consecutive season, from becoming the 26th player in league history to eclipse the 2,000-point mark or from breaking T.J. McConnell's record for career 3-pointers.
Mason entered Friday's season finale at Hampton averaging 29 points a game, with 335 career 3-pointers. The 6-foot-2, 178-pounder scored a game-high 32 points, including five 3s and the tying layup with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, in a 77-73 overtime loss. That moved Mason into 16th place on the WPIAL all-time scoring list, with 2,224 points.
Opponents are employing tactics rarely seen here to defend Mason. Hampton used a full-court press, then a 1-3 chaser once he crossed center court. In overtime, his every move was shadowed by three defenders.
"There is always a bunch of junk defenses on me," Mason said. "I'm getting used to it now. I only saw man-to-man twice this year."
That was against Aliquippa and Mars.
Mason scored 49 points both games.
"We didn't run at him with three guys -- and it shows," Mars coach Rob Carmody said. "We played man and tried to play our normal defensive roles and tried to make him work. He had six 3-pointers, but he made floaters, reverse layups ... he was just absolutely phenomenal against us."
So phenomenal that Carmody called a timeout with his Planets at the free-throw line and leading by a point with 12 seconds remaining. He instructed them to foul Mason before he crossed midcourt. Mason made both free throws to tie the game, but Mars scored in the final seconds to win.
"I just had a gut feeling that we could not let him get off a 3-pointer," Carmody said. "That's how much in the psyche he is in coaches' heads. It's probably the most unconventional thing I've ever done. I thought the most sensible thing was to not even give him the opportunity to beat us.
"It has to be frustrating to him, but he never shows it. It's impressive to see how poised he is. He's not only working to get a shot off, he's working to have breathing room. You don't see too many guys have three guys on them in a possession. That's how much respect -- and how much fear -- people have for him. If he gets going, it's almost next to impossible to stop him."
Mason averaged 33.3 points a game as a junior, when he became only the seventh player in WPIAL history and first in a half century to score 60 or more points in a game. Mason dropped 64 on Valley, making 17 of 19 from the field, including seven 3s, and 23 of 24 free throws. Only Larry Hardesty, who had 71 for Mohawk in 1959, has ever scored more in a WPIAL contest.
Then again, Mason can defy conventional wisdom. You come expecting to see a gunner only to watch him act as a decoy, drawing double teams and dishing to the open man -- even if it's against orders.
"He has to go against what he's been taught all these years, which is if somebody doubles you, you find the open man and make them pay," Highlands coach Shawn Bennis said. "I've been telling him to keep it. What we're asking him to do is score or assist on every basket."
The only thing to stop Mason was postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a disorder of the central nervous system which involved him having an abnormal rapid heart rate when standing upright. Mason spent the summer either lying in his swimming pool or playing Xbox in his bedroom, losing 31 pounds and wondering if he would ever play basketball again.
It wasn't until a chiropractor used a neurological relief technique that involved applying pressure at the base of his skull that Mason started to see positive results. Karen Mason put her son on an all-organic diet that helped him build up strength. Once cleared, Mason worked with his father, John, to resume his regimen of taking 500 shots a day on his backyard court.
That explains why Mason refuses to complain about the junk defenses.
"Always, every day, I think about college basketball and being with great basketball players who have the same dream I do and not having to face a junk defense every game and just play normal basketball," said Mason, who signed with Drake in November. "If I was a coach, I would do the same thing. I wouldn't want anyone to feel bad for me. It's going to help me with my college career. Playing against two guys can only get you better, not worse. I'm happy to get a different learning experience to get me ready for the next level."
When it comes to drawing defenses, Mason already is on a plane of his own.