Three-star 2006 combo guard Justin Mason is playing another year underneath the shadow of his teammate and Oklahoma signee Austin Johnson. Yet, this year Mason, 6-foot-2, 175-pounds from Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas, is beginning to emerge as a high-major prospect in his own right. Two offers are on the table for Mason, but expect that number to grow as his team makes a run at a state championship.
"Texas Tech has been on him heavy, and they would like him to commit," said Palo Duro head coach Jeff Evans. "Colorado State is also on him heavy, and they want him. Those are the only two schools that I can say want him right now. Texas A&M is also very interested and are coming in Friday to watch him. You know how it goes, he is getting tons of mail but those are the schools that have been making their way to Amarillo."
Athletic and strong, Mason has played well this season alongside Johnson and without Johnson when he was sidelined for three weeks with a leg injury.
"Justin is a good shooter although that is not the strongest aspect of his game," said Evans. "He is very explosive going to the rim. When Austin was out of the lineup, he played the point, and he will play the point next year when we lose Austin. Justin really pushes the ball hard and passes up the defense on the dribble. He is physical and aggressive with the ball.
"He is also a very good defender. He gets a lot of steals, and he doesn't get them by gambling but by playing tough position pressure defense."
In fact, in a recent game Mason recorded 11 steals while only twice taking himself out of the play by gambling for the basketball according to Coach Evans. On the season Mason is averaging just over 5 steals per game to go along with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
His running mate Austin Johnson is averaging 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals per game for the pressing and fastbreaking Palo Duro team, which has a 15-3 record and a No. 2 ranking in the state.
Coach Evans compared his two star guards.
"Justin is a lot like Austin, but their games are a little different," he said. "Austin's vision of the court is better right now. Justin hasn't yet developed the instinct of always knowing where the open man is to the point that Austin has. But Justin is stronger and more explosive going to the rim.
"I always have felt that Austin is undervalued as a player. He does so many things well on the court and has such a high basketball IQ. I also think that Justin is undervalued right now. Being out here in Amarillo makes it tough to get the recognition that you can get in Dallas or Houston. Wherever Justin ends up, a couple weeks after he gets there, they will realize that they got a much better player than they realized they were getting."