Bashir Mason, Wagner’s new head coach, suppressed his excitement when the school’s athletic director, Walt Hameline, called to offer the 28-year-old the program’s head coaching post in March. He stayed professional.
That didn’t last long.
“When I hung up the phone … the only way I can explain it is that I gave one of those yells players give when they make a game-winning shot,” Mason told ESPN.com. “I’m in the apartment alone. I actually think I started beating on my chest as well. A ridiculous feeling, an unbelieving feeling.”
Mason’s celebration was warranted.
He’d just received an opportunity to become the youngest Division I head coach in America.
Just five years ago, Mason completed his career as a standout point guard at Drexel. He was a four-year starter who earned All-Defensive team honors in the CAA every season. He was the first freshman to win the CAA’s defensive player of the year award during the 2003-04 season.
Former Wagner coach Danny Hurley offered Mason a slot as head coach of Saint Benedict’s postgraduate squad -- Hurley led the varsity at the time -- after he graduated from Drexel in 2007. Mason coached the team to a state title in his only previous head coaching post.
Hurley added Mason to his staff at Wagner in 2010.
After Hurley, Mason’s former high school coach, decided to take the Rhode Island gig in March, he offered then-Wagner assistant Mason the same post with the Rams.
Mason prepared to leave but not before interviewing for Wagner’s vacant head coaching position.
He figured he had nothing to lose.
If Wagner had gone in a different direction, Mason would have moved onto Rhode Island. If the school chose him, a slim possibility in Mason’s mind, he’d fulfill a dream.
Mason was so sure that Wagner would choose another coach that he began to track possible recruiting targets for Rhode Island to get a head start in his new position as a Rhode Island assistant.
But Wagner had other plans.
“I didn’t think I had a chance in the world to get the job,” Mason said. “I went after it just because I’m 28 years old. If I get it, unbelievable. If I don’t get it, I’ll be at Rhode Island as an assistant coach.”
The first few months on the job have been rewarding and hectic for Mason. But the new NCAA rules that allow coaches to conduct player workouts during the summer have eased the transition.
“I would say the first month has been scramble mode. Trying to put a staff together. Trying to put a team together as they go through the transition of a new head coach,” Mason said. “It’s been great, especially with NCAA passing that rule that we can work with these guys for two hours … I’m getting a chance to figure out who I am as a coach. Things I like, dislike. The players are getting adjusted to my voice now. Not the voice of an assistant but as the head coach. Overall it’s been really good.”
Hurley directed Wagner to the national spotlight last season with a nonconference road victory at nationally ranked Pitt. That victory was the most memorable moment for a Wagner squad that finished 25-6 but missed the postseason. Hurley started his tenure with a team that finished 5-26 the previous season.
That massive turnaround made Hurley one of the hottest coaches in the country by season’s end. His departure opened the door for another young coach who hopes to emulate his success.
Mason has the tools to do it, too. Three of the team’s top four scorers return for a squad that finished the year with the highest ranking among Northeast Conference squads in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency ratings (No. 112).
Mason said he doesn’t view his youth as an obstacle. He said he still has a lot to learn off the floor but he credits Hurley for “preparing me for this moment.”
Wagner’s administration respects him.
And his players recognize his authority.
But if they challenge it, he said, he’ll gladly remind them.
“I think I carry myself with a demeanor where guys know that I’m running the ship,” he said. “I’m close to them in age … [but] there’s a line that you shouldn’t cross.”