Mason will never forget Rupp Arena experience
By LARRY VAUGHT
Greg Mason came to Centre College in 1990 and basically has never left.
I’ve known him all that time. First as a player who had a superb career at Shelby County High School and then did the same playing for coach Tom Bryant at Centre. He was not the most athletic player on the court, but as a coach’s son he knew the game and he could shoot.
Mason was deadly from 3-point range. He made 244 3-pointers in his career and shot 51.6 percent from long range one season. He scored 1,082 points, but also had 374 career assists. His play was a big reason the Colonels went 64-37 in his four years.
Mason was not flashy. He always played under control. He controlled his emotions.
He’s been the same as a coach. He spent one year at Kentucky Wesleyan after graduation as an assistant coach before returning to Centre as an assistant for three years. He became Centre’s head coach in 1999 and is one of the top 10 active Division III coaches in winning percentage with his 347-136 record.
But never have I seen Mason more excited than when Centre played Kentucky last week in an exhibition game at Rupp Arena. It was not just the game. It was the entire week.
He loved having a chance to promote his program and Centre in general. He did TV interviews and radio shows. He even did one live appearance on WLEX-TV.
Mason grew up a Kentucky fan with former Wildcat Charles Hurt — a Shelby County product like Mason — as his childhood hero. He embraced everything about the UK atmosphere and tried to make sure his players did the same.
Sophomore Perry Ayers said he could sense a slight change in Mason leading up to the game.
“He was like, ‘You can’t expect everything against the No. 5 team in the nation.’ He told us we needed to act like 9 year olds out there and this was our chance to make memories. We just went out and had fun … and I think he did, too,” Ayers said.
So do I.
Mason brought his 6-month-old daughter, Lucy, to the team’s shoot-around at Rupp Arena. He even managed to get a picture of her with UK’s 2012 national championship trophy. He also brought her to his postgame press conference where he said Lucy would be the “biggest Kentucky fan” now that the UK-Centre game was over.
He wanted his team prepared for the game, but he also wanted them to enjoy the day. The Colonels took an abundance of pictures at the shoot around — and then did the same thing again after the game.
Now he has to get the Colonels grounded and ready for tonight’s preseason scrimmage against Hanover, a top 10 Division III team. He says Hanover has “one or two players that could play in the environment (at UK) and play well.”
Maybe, maybe not. But it’s easy to sense why Mason is still giddy and also understands that his team won’t face talent like that again all year.
“Just so much confidence (from playing Kentucky). Kentucky, it’s (NBA) lottery picks. I’m looking down the other bench, and there’s a Naismith Hall of Fame coach (John Calipari). It’s just the mecca,” Mason said after the UK game. “Our guys, there’s no question we have confidence from this. Even in getting beat 43 points.”
Mason would love to have a chance to bring his team to Kentucky to play again. Centre fans certainly did their part to make the same claim with their attendance at the UK exhibition game.
“Everywhere I looked, I could see Centre fans. That was pretty cool,” Mason said. “This was just big for our program and school. It was big for me, too. But it was about our team getting a chance to do something it will remember for years.”
But so will Mason. He had trouble sleeping after the game. He gave his team two days off because he knew it would take that long for the players to get back to reality after the Rupp Arena experience.
“Most of our guys are Kentucky fans, or if they are not they know plenty about the Kentucky program,” Mason said. “Same with our fans. I’ve got a lot of great memories as both a player and coach at Centre. But this is one you just really can’t compare with anything else and then knowing we went and competed the way we did, I couldn’t be prouder of our guys and I think everyone connected with our program felt the same way.”