- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NBA free agent Roger Mason Jr. spent a lot of time this offseason wearing a suit and sitting in meeting rooms. As vice president of the NBA players trade association, soon to become the players union again, Mason helped craft the deal for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA players and owners that ended the 149-day lockout.

Now, Mason is getting ready for his next job. A journeyman two-guard, Mason has played for five NBA teams, including the Wizards, where he played from 2006 to 2008. A D.C. native who attended the University of Virginia, Mason has made it no secret that he’d love to play at home again.

Mason, who was working out in a Washington Wizards T-shirt, would only smile when asked if his choice of attire was significant, and if a return to D.C. might be in the works.

“I have nothing but love for the Wizards. If it works out, it sure would be good,” Mason said.

After leaving the Wizards, Mason spent two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, and played last season with the New York Knicks. With training camps set to start on Dec. 9, Mason reunited with friend and former Wizards teammate Andray Blatche to organize some training camp-style workouts for any players who want to attend. Among the players at Tuesday’s session were Spurs
guard Gary Neal, former Wizard and current Dallas Maverick Brendan Haywood, and Wizard Hamady Ndiaye.

“It’s going to be tough to play a 66-game season,” Mason said. “That’s why I felt it was very important to put something together along with Andray where we could get in training camp and basketball shape.”

“It’s one thing to play those pick-up games. It’s another thing to have a practice format, to really do drills, work on conditioning and really prepare guys for the season.”

Mason credits trainer Joe Connelly for helping him get in game shape. A Baltimore native, Connelly has been working with both Mason and Blatche for about five years, and began his career working with kids at a rec center more than 20 years ago.

“I did all the grass-roots stuff, working at rec centers, coaching at high schools, with AAU programs, and I was a public school teacher in Baltimore,” Connelly said.

“Then about five years ago I met Roj [Mason], and it sort of took on a life of its own [becoming a trainer]. It’s been a dream come true [training NBA players].”

“I’m probably one of the only people the lockout has benefitted,” Connelly said. “I’m sad to see it go,” he added, only partially joking.

With players unable to work out at their team facilities, Connelly’s workload has been steady. Now that the NBA players will report for training camp soon, things will slow down a bit, but Connelly admits he’s glad his clients have a job. He knows his work won’t soon be forgotten.

“It’s not like a summer league game,” Connelly said. “This is old school. Guys are running hard, playing hard. The sense of urgency is back. This is more of an NBA style. The guys need this going into training camp. They need to break some of those bad habits they picked up in summer league.”

As for Blatche, he can’t wait for the season to start. He’s got high hopes for the Wizards this year.

“I’m excited about this year with my new teammates,” Blatche said. “A lot of people got better over the summer. This will be a great opportunity for us to surprise some people this year, and do things the right way.”