It didn’t take long for Chattanooga head basketball coach Will Wade to realize he’d inherited something special in Z. Mason. Wade saw pretty early on that the team’s lone senior had all the tools required to be great, especially in a substandard Southern Conference.
Between his finishing ability around the rim and a proficient mid-range game, Mason would present a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders. His solid 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame could provide the undersized Mocs with some much-needed muscle on the backboards, and his superb shot-blocking ability would bolster the back end on D.
It’s been well documented that, before the season even started, Wade plainly told Mason that the former SEC football player was skilled enough to become the 2014 SoCon Player of the Year.
The All-SoCon selection ultimately came up short of that lofty goal, but his record-setting season won’t soon be forgotten at Chattanooga, especially not by Wade.
“He really got things kick-started for us,” Wade said.
Mason, the driving force of the Mocs’ 18-win campaign, notched 15 double-doubles in 2013-14, led the SoCon in rebounding (9.6 rpg) and tallied a UTC single-season record of 92 blocked shots.
“Without him I’m not sure we’re a very good basketball team,” Wade added. “I don’t think there’s much question about that … You guys saw, we didn’t have him for two games, and you wanted to hide the children watching us play when we didn’t have him.
“He’s passed the torch and now it’s our time to carry the torch and run with it, continue what he started.”
Mason, who wrapped up his collegiate playing days with Tuesday’s 79-66 CIT loss to East Tennessee State, became the first player in school history to eclipse 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 100 blocks, finishing his three-year career with 1,177 points, 673 rebounds and 129 blocks.
“I enjoyed it,” Mason said. “I won’t regret any minute of it. We had a great year this year-my senior year-finished strong and put myself in a great situation. It’s just a blessing. I credit it to hard work and a lot of coaches that helped me get here and gave me a chance.”
Now it’s time for him to take the next step.
Mason recently received confirmation that he’d been invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a senior-only showcase for future professional basketball players which takes place April 16-19 in Portsmouth, Va.
“We’re thrilled for him,” Wade said. “We got the email back [Tuesday] finalizing everything. He’s got a great pro career ahead of him. He’s got some decisions to make in the coming weeks that we’ll certainly help him with. We look forward to following him and Chattanooga’s always going to be his home.
“We love him, appreciate him and he’s meant a lot to our program.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on twitter @MichaelNooga.