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BOYS BASKETBALL
In some ways Springstead High senior Isaiah Mason came out of nowhere this past season, his only full varsity campaign.

Because of academic issues as a junior, the lanky, 6-foot-5 forward/center essentially had just one year to build his hoops resume.

But he didn’t sneak up on Pasco-Hernando Community College basketball coach Bobby Bowman.

“I saw him personally five times,” said Bowman, who hosted a summer league attended by the Eagles. “He’s really got great potential, and he’s talented enough to be an impact player right away.”

Mason led Springstead in scoring (19.1 points per game), blocks (2.4 per game) and highlight-reel dunks, to go along with 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest.

Though his height forced him to play the post, he knocked down 26 three-pointers, while exhibiting the ability to dribble and drive.

All this while the Eagles, owners of one previous regional victory, put together an improbable run to the Class 4A state championship game and finished the season 31-1.

Those credentials made the 17-year-old son of Spring Hill’s Tommy and Harriet Mason more than attractive enough for Bowman to offer a full scholarship, which Mason accepted last week.

“It feels pretty good,” Mason said. “I keep getting the opportunity to play somewhere.”

Making the leap

Mason’s leap from an unknown commodity to the first player to sign from the state runner-up began last season.

He appeared in the team’s final seven games, averaging 8.9 points. 2.7 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.1 steals. But it was the games he didn’t play that made the greatest impact.

“I knew I needed to try to study more, get good grades,” Mason said. “Half the season when I had to watch everybody else play was definitely big motivation.”

A summer removed from a major growth spurt, Mason said he worked on improving his jumping ability during last offseason, matching his athleticism with his shooting stroke.

“He was such a different player,” Springstead Head Coach Pat Kelly said. “His development this year was significant. He began to understand what he can do during the summer time and brought those things to the table when the season started.”

Never did he exhibit that more than in the regional final versus Ocala-West Port, accumulating 22 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks, four assists and three steals to lead the Eagles to the state finals in Lakeland.

Springstead would go on to defeat the top-ranked team in the state, Pensacola, before succumbing to Cocoa in the final, unable to hold a 17-point lead.

Not the ending Mason and his teammates wanted, but a tremendous postseason run nonetheless.

“It was hyped around the school. It was crazy,” Mason said. “Going to Lakeland for the first time in school history, leaving your mark at the school, it’s pretty amazing.

“…After the (championship) game, it was all for nothing, we didn’t accomplish our goal. But once I took a few days to recuperate, I appreciated what we did and felt satisfied.”

Next step

With that experience in the rearview mirror, the next step for Mason was to find a new place to play. Though academics did limit his options, he found a suitable destination nearby.

He does have aspirations of one day playing in the NBA, and would certainly like to move on to a major college or university after completing two years at P-HCC.

“He can play at the top level of the college game,” Kelly said. “He has things he needs to do to get to that level, both in the weight room and the classroom.

“He has to take advantage of it. He has to push himself and set high goals for himself.”

His new coach concurs with his former coach as far as his ability to play Division I ball.

“I think if he does all the things required of a student-athlete,” Bowman said, “first of all he has to do well in the classroom, getting his AA degree, continue to have a good work ethic and improve, I think he can definitely be a Division I prospect. But he’s got to work to get that.”

Those are the challenges Mason will face in the future. What he accomplished in the past season, however, will continue to stick with him.

“I’m never going to leave that behind,” Mason said of Springstead’s playoff push. “I’ll always know that we did that. But right now, I’ve got to try to move on. But I’ll always remember that.”

BY THE NUMBERS: ISAIAH MASON
YEAR GP FG 3PT FTA FTM FT% TP PPG
Jr 07 23 06 17 10 59% 62 8.86
Sr 32 246 26 154 93 60% 611 19.1
TOTALS 39 269 32 171 103 60% 673 17.3

Sports writer Chris Bernhardt Jr. can be reached at 352-544-5288 or [email protected]

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