Mason-Griffin looking to put the finishing touches on his prep career
Mason-Griffin Living Up To His Reputation
By Matt Remsberg
For every "Dark Knight," there are dozens of Hollywood busts. For every "Carter III," there are sales racks spilling over with disappointing albums. And for every LeBron, there are rosters full of draft disasters.
For most highly touted basketball players, the expectations kick into high gear around junior or senior year. But for Madison senior Tommy Mason-Griffin, hype began hounding him long before high school even began. And every step of the way, he's proved to be one of the few exceptions to the rule.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound point guard is rated the state's No. 1 high school baller in the ESPNU 100, No. 6 nationally among floor generals. An Oklahoma recruit, Mason-Griffin is the reigning Houston Chronicle Player of the Year after averaging 23 points and seven assists per game as a junior.
"The bigger the moment, the better he plays," Madison coach Craig Maura says. "It's unbelievable. Without fail, he finds a way to come through."
Running with older competition since he was a 4-year-old playing biddy basketball against 6- and 7-year-olds, Mason-Griffin's name has been well-known around town for most of his life. But the hype truly began with one phone call during the summer after seventh grade.
While Mason-Griffin was minding his business at home one night, the coach of Houston Hoops -- the area's top AAU program -- called him and asked if he could fill in as a last-minute substitute with the 17-U team at the Nike Peach Jam tournament in Atlanta. The catch? The team would be boarding the plane to leave in less than 24 hours.
Mason-Griffin, who'd already been playing up a year that summer for Houston Hoops' 14-U team, scrambled to get his things together and was on his way to Atlanta the next day. He didn't get much run at the tourney, but the fact that the coaches turned to him in a pinch was a major statement and a harbinger for the future.
Two summers later, after averaging 18 points and six assists as a freshman at Madison, Mason-Griffin made Houston Hoops' 17-U team. For a program that has sent the likes of Stephen Jackson, Kendrick Perkins, Rashard Lewis, Emeka Okafor and T.J. Ford to the NBA, Mason-Griffin was the team's youngest-ever permanent member.
"I knew I was good enough to play at that level, but I really didn't expect to make it," Mason-Griffin says. "It was a blessing because I got to play with so many great players."
As a sophomore, Mason-Griffin averaged 21 points and seven assists per game. He dropped 47 on Katy Taylor in the second round of the Class 5A state tournament to knock out Ray's squad. Mason-Griffin followed that with 37 against Aldine to kick Johnson's team to the curb. Finally, Wise and Singletary teamed up for Kingwood to end Madison's run in the regional semifinals.
Last season, Mason-Griffin led the Marlins to the Region III-5A title game with another string of scintillating performances. He averaged 30 points per game in the team's four playoff victories, including a 45-point outburst in a second-round win over Alief Hastings. After Madison was down as many as 18 points in that contest, Mason-Griffin keyed the comeback with seven 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
"His jump shot is a sight to behold," Maura says. "Everyone else gets tired as the game wears on, but Tommy gets stronger. You can't see a difference in his legs from the first quarter to the fourth."
Usually when you hear about a basketball player taking over a game, you picture Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant charging through the lane on each possession, making miraculous layups and getting to the free-throw line. Mason-Griffin can do that, but he's also lethal from the perimeter and can take over a game with stop-and-pop jumpers or an onslaught of 3-pointers.
The key to Mason-Griffin's jumper is his lift and extension. He gets up so high on his shot that it seems like he's floating on air rather than jumping. That ability is hard-earned, and it's just one of many facets of his superior strength.
At 9 years old, Mason-Griffin was doing 100 push-ups per day. In middle school he wore Strength Shoes -- which force you to walk on your toes to develop leg muscles -- while doing sprints, jumping rope and running stadium stairs. The result was a player who entered high school already possessing the strength of an upperclassman.
"My parents taught me early on about work ethic," Mason-Griffin says. "They wanted me to understand that hard work gets rewarded. I still think about that when I'm working out."
Mason-Griffin hasn't eased up now that he's a senior. He still works out before and after school, often getting his coach to unlock the gym so he can perfect his shot on an otherwise empty court.
But when the lights come up on game day, gyms are usually anything but empty. Wherever Madison is playing, the crowd begins filling up during the second half of the JV game that precedes the varsity action. Mason-Griffin has a core group of 30-40 family members and friends who attend every game, and the Madison community enthusiastically supports its star.
"Tommy is the hometown hero," Maura says. "He has a following like no player I've ever seen."
So few things live up to the hype, you've got to catch them while you can.
Breaking Down the Sooners' ClassOklahoma added six newcomers last year -- including McDonald's All-American guard Willie Warren -- all of whom could start in the near future for coach Jeff Capel. In its 2009 class, OU will add another five standouts, including a strong post presence who could replace All-American Blake Griffin if he goes pro.
Mason-Griffin will become Capel's future team leader, and, ultimately, an All-Big 12 performer. Fitzgerald is a monster on the boards and a very physical power player. Pledger provides reliable outside firepower and can get to the rim. If he can fully recover from the knee injury that he suffered as a junior, Hardrick has the potential to become a good college player.
But the best of the bunch is the 6-9, 300-pound Gallon. He could be among the nation's premier interior scorers by his sophomore year.
Meet Phil PresseyDALLAS -- For junior Phil Pressey, the transition game has meant moving halfway across the country, at least getting to live with one of his parents again.
Goodbye to the boarding school near Boston, where in two seasons at Cushing Academy (Ashburnham, Mass.) he turned heads as a diminutive point guard playing against much of the best high school competition in New England. Hello to the Episcopal School of Dallas, which plays in a league of elite academic schools that do not offer nearly the quality of basketball he previously faced.
Pressey's mother wouldn't have it any other way.
"I know he has the athletic ability to carry himself to the next level," said Liz Pressey, who moved to Dallas this summer. "I first looked at public schools because they had the best basketball programs. This is a better fit for Phil coming from boarding school. This will provide the same environment as college."
His biggest adjustment on the court? "More size here," said the son of New Orleans Hornets assistant coach Paul Pressey. "More guards there."
And the biggest adjustment at his new school? "Wearing a uniform."
With Pressey in an ESD uniform, topped by a Nike headband, the Eagles are 18-5 and figure to repeat as champions of the Southwest Preparatory Conference's Division I.
Oklahoma Commit Tommy Mason-Griffin
On The TrailSouth Carolina gets a talented 2-guard
Spinella was on campus attending the USC-Florida game Wednesday and witnessed Zam Frederick's buzzer-beating layup that knocked off the Gators.
"When they won, the place went nuts," he told The State. "What else could you expect? It was awesome."
ESPN.com recruiting coordinator Reggie Rankin breaks down Spinella's game.
"Steve is a shooting guard with good length and good athleticism," he said. "He is primarily a scorer who gets his points off the ball but can help out at the point in a pinch.
"His best attribute is his midrange game," Rankin said. "He is very consistent with his pull-up jumper. He can also make open 3s when given time and shows fairly good range."
Overall, Spinella will be a solid contributor for head coach Darrin Horn.
"Steve is a good enough passer and ball handler to play some lead guard for the Gamecocks," Rankin said, "although he is best at shooting off screens and slashing to the bucket. Defensively, he'll bring some of that Jersey toughness to S.C. Overall, he'll be a nice four-year contributor for coach Horn and his staff."