Years ago, when he was leading Wheaton’s Good Counsel High School to a record 29 straight wins and a No. 19 ranking in USA Today, Roger Mason Jr. was a Wizards fan.
His affinity for the franchise dates back further.
“I watched the Bullets when they had Bernard King and Jeff Malone,” the 6-foot-5 guard said. “Chris Webber, Rod Strickland and Juwan [Howard]. I’ve seen Rasheed Wallace come and go and I was disappointed with that. I was a fan just like the fans today and it hurt always watching the good players get out of town.”
Mason is close to becoming a part of his favorite team’s history. The former Virginia star is one of four players vying for the Wizards’ final roster spot, a competition coach Eddie Jordan said yesterday would be decided “at the 11th hour” before Monday’s 6 p.m. deadline.
Also in the mix are former George Washington forward Mike Hall, one-time high school All-America center James Lang and second-year Wizards guard Donell Taylor.
The Wizards can begin the season with 15 players on the roster. Currently, they have 16 and, although unlikely, the team could keep just 14 players.
Jordan likes aspects of each player’s game and said the competition for that final spot is keen.
Mason has the most experience, taken by Chicago with the 31st pick of the 2002 NBA Draft — the same spot where Golden State chose Gilbert Arenas a year earlier. He has shot well in camp, and scored 11 points against Cleveland on Saturday.
Taylor also has had a solid training camp but still makes some mistakes.
But while Jordan is not tipping his hand, Lang, a 6-10 center, appears to have an inside track.
“Lang is interesting because he does some things down there on the box that are not our other big guys’ strengths,” Jordan said, referring to holdovers Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood. “They are defensive minded. But James has great hands down there. He’s got great post moves down there and he’s got a good feel for how to score. So we like that.”
If a decision comes down to Mason and Hall, Mason appears to have the edge.
“Roger’s got some experience in the NBA and he’s way ahead of Michael Hall,” Jordan said. “He’s making shots and that makes a difference.
“Mike is working through the process. He’s making his mistakes but he’s getting better at realizing what he can do on the floor; how to score when an opportunity comes up. He’s done a lot of things that we’ve asked, like make hustle plays and defensive rebounding. So he’s right there, too.”
What makes Jordan’s decision difficult is that the Wizards’ depth is better now than it was last season, when Awvee Storey made the team as a free agent. Another reason is that the players on the bubble have all played well in preseason games.