By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Roger Mason was informed during Sunday morning's shoot-around that he would start in place of Gilbert Arenas that night in Philadelphia.
Not long after the Wizards arrived at Wachovia Center for the game, however, Arenas changed his mind about taking the night off to rest his knee.
Then, just before tip-off, Arenas changed his mind again and told Mason to get ready.
Mason staked the Wizards to an early lead by making four of his first five shots, played solid defense and finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists in just under 36 minutes as the Wizards improved to 3-0 in the preseason with an 86-80 win.
"Starting wasn't really that big of a deal, I was just happy to go out there and get into a little groove and take what I've been doing in practice into the game," Mason said. "I've been shooting the ball pretty well in practice. But in the first two games, I didn't shoot as well as I wanted to so, it was nice to get into a nice little rhythm out there."
Nobody who has observed Mason over the years should be surprised by his ability to adapt to changing situations. After leaving Virginia following his junior season, Mason was selected in the second round of the 2002 draft by the Chicago Bulls only to have his career sidetracked by a shoulder injury he suffered in predraft workouts.
After playing in 43 games over three seasons with the Bulls and Toronto Raptors, Mason played in Greece and Israel, where the shoulder healed and his game developed.
He landed with the Wizards last season on a partially guaranteed contract but made the team and appeared in 62 games. Though Mason averaged a modest 2.7 points on 33 percent shooting, he impressed Coach Eddie Jordan with his versatility, knowledge of the game and competitive nature.
Mason became an unrestricted free agent, and Jordan was pleased to see him return to the team.
"Once we had our core guys and got them set, he was definitely a guy we wanted to keep," Jordan said. "There were other guys out there, but we always compared them to Roger, and we liked Roger all the time."
But getting Mason to ink a one-year guaranteed deal worth $895,341 wasn't easy because Mason had drawn the attention of the defending world champion San Antonio Spurs. In fact, when the Wizards called to make their offer, Mason was on a plane, ready to fly to San Antonio to meet with Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford, who was offering a three-year deal worth a little over $3 million.
Mason was impressed by the championship mystique surrounding the Spurs and intrigued by the possibility of playing with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But once the Wizards made an offer, he weighed his options and decided to stick with his hometown team.
Mason, who grew up in the area, starred at Good Counsel High School and still fanatically follows the Redskins, liked the idea of playing near home but also viewed the decision as sound business. It was a gamble, but Mason was willing to gamble on himself.
"Of course the thought of playing for San Antonio was tempting because they're a championship team and that's a goal for every player," Mason said. "I was honored that they pursued me but I also recognized that I was here last year, and I thought it was a big step for me in terms of getting comfortable with a team and a system that fits what I do as a player. I just felt that this presented a better opportunity. One thing I've learned over the years is that continuity is very important."
Wizards N ote: Arenas and Antonio Daniels, who missed Sunday's game with a mild left ankle sprain, are expected to be available for tonight's preseason game at Chicago.