I don’t think I was ever really laughing at Frank Mason III. Yeah, my laughs were technically coming at his expense, but I swear I was just laughing at the timing of the song. And let’s be honest — you were too. How could you not be? Mason averaged 16.1 minutes and 5.5 points per game during his freshman season, which was capped by a 60–57 loss to no. 10 seed Stanford in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, an outing in which Mason went 0-for-4 from the field. Less than a week after that loss, the now-famous “Bitch, I’m Frank Mason” rap was posted to YouTube.
I first found out about that song in January 2015 when Corban Goble, former Grantland contributor and current editor at The Players’ Tribune, brought it to my attention. The next day, I included it in my power rankings because, again, it was hilarious. At the time, Mason was about halfway through his sophomore season and, while he had worked his way into the starting lineup and was putting up decent stats, he wasn’t even the best player on his team. (That was Perry Ellis.) Pretty much any rap song about anything relating to college athletics is hysterical to me (do you think enough time has passed for these guys to regret this yet?), so you bet I was going to poke fun at one made about a then-unspectacular point guard for a high-profile program. The song quickly became a thing, a hashtag (#BIFM) was born, and Mason’s legacy seemed to be set in stone: He was forever going to be that Kansas guy who had a rap made about him.
Two years later, though, Mason has achieved the impossible: He’s outgrown a song that opens with him saying, “What it do, man, it’s your boy Frank Mason, out here balling in Kansas and shit” and features the phrase “bitch, I’m Frank Mason” 28 times. I don’t care if he beats out Villanova’s Josh Hart for college basketball’s national player of the year awards. Mason is set to close out his career as the best Jayhawks point guard of the Bill Self era. He’s already won. I mean, who among us has the stones to call his own shot as an unheralded 19-year-old … and then deliver in a way that no one would have ever thought possible? What was once an ill-advised song hilariously lacking in self-awareness has improbably become a battle cry, and Mason is having the last laugh.
Looking back, the Mason rap shouldn’t be that surprising, given that the quality that defines him on the court is confidence. Believing in himself is only half the story, though. The other half is that Mason goes about his business with a remarkably calm demeanor, as if he’s responsible for keeping Kansas fans from panicking when the Jayhawks find themselves in a tough spot. It can’t be overstated how rare it is to have a senior point guard who brings this to the table. For many programs, “calm” and “point guard” go together about as well as “Missouri” and “Final Four,” something that’s true even for teams with supremely talented players at the position. That’s why it’s invaluable to have a guy like Mason, who runs the show in a way that leaves you thinking he’s in total control of every game.
Also invaluable: the feeling that Mason can’t miss. He’s shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from the 3-point line despite taking more than 13 shots per game. That’s absolutely bonkers, especially for a guy who is 5-foot-11 and isn’t overwhelmingly athletic. In the Creighton section of my power rankings a few weeks ago, I threw out a half-baked theory that anyone shooting better than 60 percent from the field or 45 percent from deep should have the green light to shoot under any circumstances until his percentages dip below those thresholds. I wasn’t sure how serious I was about this until I started thinking about how it pertains to Mason, and now I realize that it should be basketball gospel. When teams are on offense, all I really want is for them to put up a good shot. Maybe it goes in, maybe it doesn’t; as long as I find myself saying, “There it is,” as the attempt is put up, I’m happy. And with the way Mason is playing right now, I think I’d say that even if he changed his shooting form to resemble that of a soccer throw-in.
Above all else, that’s what makes Mason so much fun to watch. He’s ridiculously tough, has great court vision, and plays solid defense, sure. But the way he goes about scoring 19.9 points per game is almost intoxicating. He has a lights-out 3-point jumper. He can hit pull-ups going either direction from anywhere on the court, even with the game on the line. He has great touch around the basket with his floater. And watching him make giants dizzy as he dribbles circles around them, gets to the rim, and sinks borderline-impossible layups is like watching poetry come to life.
That scoring ability and calm demeanor were on full display last Saturday in Rupp Arena, when Kansas beat Kentucky 79–73 to improve to 19–2. The Wildcats don’t have anybody who can guard long and athletic wings, which is why Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks’ star 6-foot-8 freshman, was the key to the win. But make no mistake: Mason was, as he always is, the foundation for Kansas. In a game that featured four potential 2017 NBA lottery picks (Jackson and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo), he led all scorers with 21 points, even though the all of my Jayhawks takeaways — Jackson’s big day, Kansas going to a zone defense, Sviatoslav “The Ukrainmaker” Mykhailiuk actually hitting a big shot, Lagerald Vick throwing down an absurd dunk, and Landen Lucas rising to the Adebayo challenge — have nothing to do with Mason.
This isn’t an accident, by the way. That’s just who Mason is. He’s the steady hand on the tiller for a Kansas team that badly needs a calming influence on the court. (And while he has filled the same role off it, it should be mentioned that he’s one of five Jayhawks listed as witnesses in a police report about an alleged rape. The investigation is ongoing.) Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a single aspect of his game that should be classified as boring. It’s just that while plenty of guys around the country boast more impressive highlight reels, nobody makes his fan base say, “Thank god we have him and the other team doesn’t,” as frequently as Mason elicits that reaction from Kansas fans.
You know exactly what you’re getting from Mason every time he takes the court, which is something that can’t be said of too many college basketball players. He thinks he’s the best player in the country, but isn’t so delusional about his abilities that he negatively impacts his team. (Case in point: He’s been red hot since the start of the season, yet he somehow continues to resist the urge to throw up heat-check shots, which goes against everything that 99 percent of basketball players on earth have believed for decades.) He’s averaging 5.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds and has as many games in which he’s scored 30-plus points as games in which he’s scored fewer than 15. And he’s doing it all while playing a really difficult schedule and carrying the no. 3 team in the AP poll through injuries, suspensions, inexperience, and everything in between. Add it all up, and it’s pretty clear who would get my national player of the year vote if the season ended today.
He’s … well, here’s a hint.