Duquesne's Mason delivers threes and medical miracles

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It's hard to keep Micah Mason down.

Mason, Duquesne's sophomore starting guard, splashed four of six 3-point attempts and scored 14 points against Massachusetts-Lowell Saturday in his return to the Dukes' lineup after missing a month with a broken right hand.

With only one true start, Mason, 20, is averaging 9.8 points per game and shooting 56.5 percent from 3-point range this season.

"He's a gym rat," Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. "He's a kid that's been in the gym his whole life. When a kid has done this his whole life, it comes back pretty quick."

The broken hand, though, was just the latest in Mason's long list of physical problems.

First, there's POTS syndrome, a disorder that impedes the body from processing gluten. It was the reason Mason transferred to Duquesne this spring after his freshman season at Drake. When Drake couldn't provide proper nutrition last fall, his mother, Karen, moved from the family's home in Natrona Heights to Des Moines, Iowa, for five months to cook for her son.

Though the transfer to Duquesne was quickly approved, the NCAA didn't grant Mason immediate eligibility via a medical-hardship waiver until two days before the opener.

The sure-handed shooter came out ready anyway and earned a starting spot after just three games.

But there's more ...

And that becomes obvious when Mason casually says, "Oh, and I've got somebody else's labrum in my left hip."

In truth, Mason's hips, not POTS syndrome or a broken hand, provided the biggest setbacks this year. They've always been the problem.

It started his sophomore year at Highlands High School, when Mason was diagnosed with femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), a condition in which the hip bones are abnormally shaped, causing them to rub against each other.

"Basically, I have extra bone in my hip sockets," Mason said.

He had three surgeries that year.

Last fall, before his first and only season at Drake, Mason knew another surgery was imminent. He could feel the bones rubbing again in his left hip, but, after notifying the coaching staff, he played the season anyway and scheduled postseason surgery for March.

"I was in so much pain," Mason said, "just trying to fight through it until the end."

He came off the bench for 5.4 points and 2.2 assists per game for the Bulldogs. He was the Missouri Valley Conference's top 3-point shooter (50.6 percent).

Then came the surgery, which, in Mason's words, was "pretty simple."

"The ultimate goal for the surgeon is to go in and shave the bone down to make it fit the socket so it's not rubbing," he said. "If there's any damage to the labrum, just sew it up and repair it."

When the surgeon went in to repair the labrum -- a ring of cartilage that surrounds the hip socket -- there was nothing to work with.

"It was just shredded," Mason said. "It was all chewed up. So he gave me a new one."

The next month, he made his decision to transfer home. Ferry said the Mason family kept the Duquesne staff abreast of his medical progress throughout the transfer process, "and we supported him through it."

In early May, six weeks after the initial surgery, Mason returned to the surgeon for a follow-up appointment. An X-ray showed the right hip now needed surgery.

The mid-May surgery on his right hip, his fifth surgery in five years, was successful, as the surgeon was able to patch up that labrum.

"I came here to Duquesne in the summer, and all I could do was upper-body lifting," Mason said. "I couldn't really do the workouts they had; I just went to class and lifted."

Mason was kept off the basketball court for nearly seven months (March to September).

He finally was cleared to practice by doctors in late September and by the NCAA Nov. 7. Two days later, Mason was back, drilling his first 3-pointer of the season.

Mason expects the hip problems will linger.

"I don't think it's ever going to be perfect," Mason said, "but I can definitely tell a difference in the way I run and the way I move this year compared to last year."

Mason broke his hand in the first half against Albany Nov. 20, but he wasn't going to let that derail his season. Neither was Ferry.

"As a coach, you always try to hit the positives," Ferry said.

"Hey, Micah, your hand is hurting, and you're out for a bit. That's OK. It'll help relax your hips a bit so you're ready for the stretch run."

With the Atlantic 10 season around the corner, Mason will be hoping for a far healthier year in 2014.

For now, though, he feels stronger than ever.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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