Patience pays off for Mason in Duquesne debut
Waiting for the go-ahead to return to basketball was nothing new to Micah Mason.
Health issues nearly sidelined him for his senior season at Highlands, and he once feared doctors might advise him to give up the game for good.
But he was cleared and went on to become the WPIAL's all-time 3-point leader.
Those same health issues had him sighing at the turning calendar pages again as he waited for a decision on his eligibility at Duquesne.
But he's back — again.
Two days after the NCAA approved a hardship waiver granting him eligibility to play this season, the Drake transfer made his Dukes' debut Saturday afternoon at Palumbo Center.
“I was definitely nervous for this one,” Mason said. “This was a lot different than my first game at Drake.”
In a 94-75 season-opening win over Abilene Christian that fast-paced Duquesne controlled from the tip, Mason came off the bench at the 15:09 mark of the first half and made his presence known just 28 seconds later — fittingly — on a 3-pointer. The soft 20-footer came from the left wing and drew rousing applause from a home crowd that had just given him a warm welcome.
“I think it was neat that he gets in and bangs a 3 right away,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “He still has to get his feet under him. We had taken the worst-case scenario (approach) because we thought he was sitting out.”
Mason, who last played a game at Palumbo as a freshman for Highlands in the 2009 WPIAL championship against Hampton, finished with five points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal in 26 minutes.
A number of family and friends attended the game. Mason was only allotted four tickets.
Initially, Mason was set to sit out a year per NCAA rules after he left one Division I program for another. The same health issues that prompted his transfer — initially postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) which required that Mason avoid gluten in his diet — also was enough for the NCAA to defer to the 6-foot-2 guard and his unique situation.
“I didn't even know if I'd be playing this season, but I had been practicing with our White (secondary) team. I didn't start running with our Blue (first) team until Thursday when I was cleared.”
The POTS seems to be under control.
Mason said Drake was unable to help him maintain a strict diet, something that prompted his mother, Karen, to move to Des Moines, Iowa, to prepare her son's meals.
The Masons still own a house there, and are renting it to Drake players.
Gluten, it was determined after months of tests that began during his high school career, caused Mason to become light-headed and weak. He's experienced heart-palpitations, dizziness, stomach problems and other issues, the same symptoms that his mother, Karen, and sister, Mackenzie, deal with every day.
The situation became taxing on the family and they saw a need for change.
Mason lives with his sister and her boyfriend at a nearby off-campus apartment. His sister does the specialized cooking now.
Mason is trying to find his way in an offense that thrives on quickness and attacking the basket. His role, as it appears, will be as a spot-up shooter, the recipient of kick-out passes.
“Once the season gets going, when we play teams like Pitt, defense will pick up,” Mason said. “That might open some shots.”
Mason, who made 346 3s as a four-year starter at Highlands, is 12th on the WPIAL's all-time scoring list with 2,272 points.
As a freshman last season at Drake, Mason averaged 5.4 points and 2.2 assists in 30 games. He led the Missouri Valley Conference in 3-point percentage, at 50.6 (40 for 79), and that mark was fourth in the country.
He started 11 games for the Bulldogs.
Mark Phelps, who coached Mason at Drake and is now an assistant at Missouri, wrote a letter to the NCAA on Mason's behalf.
“That was big for him to do that,” Mason said. “He kind of told them what happened at Drake. I sent him a text to thank him.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.