It’s 5 p.m. Monday, at the dawn of postseason play, and Duquesne guard Micah Mason, college basketball’s 3-point king, is playing a little game he calls “100 Swishes.”
The game is exactly what you think it is. Mason pulls up for a 15-footer. Swish. A step-back jumper. Swish. A corner 3-pointer. Swish. If the ball nicks the rim, it’s as good a miss.
As Duquesne embarks on the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the 10th-seeded Dukes will face No. 7 seed Richmond Thursday night, Mason quietly is chasing history.
Mason, a sophomore, has hit 65 of 114 3-point attempts this season. His 3-point shooting percentage of .570 is easily the top mark in Division I and will shatter the Dukes’ current single-season 3-point shooting record of .441 set by Courtney Wallace in 2000-01.
“At the clip he shoots 3s, it’s almost a layup for him,” senior forward Ovie Soko said of Mason.
Mason’s current pace would register as the seventh-best 3-point shooting season in Division I history and the best mark since Western Michigan’s Sean Wightman (.632) in 1991-92. It’s far to early to project, but Mason could ultimately challenge the Division I record for career 3-point field-goal percentage of .497 set by then-Green Bay guard and current Virginia coach Tony Bennett in 1989-92.
Mason’s career mark is .544 (105 of 193) in 54 games — and only 21 starts. To qualify for the NCAA record, Mason would need 200 career 3-point baskets and average at least two per game.
“It’s ridiculous,” Soko said. “I tell him all the time, dude, you’re the best shooter I’ve ever played with. It’s kind of surreal at times. We sort of forget really how good he is. In practice, there are days he goes without missing at all.”
Mason said he pays no attention to the numbers, but he hears them.
“It would be too hard if I was out there shooting to set a record instead of just playing the game,” Mason said, taking a break to interview at 74 swishes. “If I was thinking about that, it would be a mental game.”
What has made him the best 3-point shooter in college basketball?
Mason thought for a moment, then offered: “Thousands of shots. That’s the only thing I can really tell you. A lot of practice went into it.”
It began in his family’s backyard in Natrona Heights, where his father taught him to shoot, and where Mason would use their shooting machine from dawn to dusk. Lost in the numbers, though, is the fact that he nearly missed the season.
Mason transferred home last summer after his freshman season at Drake University because of issues with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a gluten sensitivity. It wasn’t until the first week of the season that Mason was granted an NCAA waiver to negate the mandatory one-year residency requirement and make him immediately eligible.
Mason also had two offseason hip surgeries related to femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), a condition in which the hip bones are abnormally shaped, causing them to rub against each other. He has had five hip surgeries in the past five years.
Since Mason couldn’t move much over the summer, Duquesne coach Jim Ferry helped him craft a quicker release. Once doctors cleared him to run, they added footwork. Mason cracked the starting lineup four games into the season, then missed a month with a broken hand. Now, he averages 11 points per game and, as Ferry said, “everybody in the country knows who he is. Shooting cures a lot of ills.”
Atlantic 10 teams limited Mason’s attempts by face-guarding him and keeping a guard pinned to Mason on the perimeter, which opens up lanes for teammates to drive.
“I started to learn how to hunt my own shots — come off screens harder and faster and use them better,” Mason said.
Ferry said the next step is to work on Mason’s ball-handling. He sees Mason as a point guard, eventually.
Before Mason arrived, Ferry said, he drew comparisons to T.J. McConnell, a Chartiers Valley High School graduate thriving in his first season at Arizona after transferring from Duquesne.
“Everybody tried to compare the kid to McConnell,” Ferry said of Mason.
“I didn’t. He’s not. They’re different. They’re both fantastic players, they’re just different.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.