Monday, October 8, 2007

In this age of free agency, Roger Mason Jr. is a rarity.

The 26-year-old guard signed with the Washington Wizards at the start of last season after spending two seasons playing in Israel. After his one-year deal expired over the summer, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs offered him a three-year deal worth roughly $3 million. But Mason, a product of Good Counsel High School in Montgomery County and the University of Virginia, re-signed with the Wizards, the team he grew up cheering for.

Mason said there’s much more to his game that he has yet to reveal, and Washington will provide him with the best opportunity to showcase those talents this season.

“It’s awesome to play in front of friends and family — it really is,” said Mason, who signed for the veterans minimum of one year at $895,341. “But at the same time, this is a basketball decision for me. I feel like I have a great opportunity to have an impact this year with this team.”

After the Wizards suffered a rash of injuries at the end of last season, Antawn Jamison and Antonio Daniels enjoyed fantastic playoff performances, averaging a combined 45.3 points in the postseason. Nonetheless, the Cleveland Cavaliers swept Washington on their way to the Eastern Conference championship. With All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler out, no one else contributed much to help give the Wizards a fighting chance.

Mason, who showed at times last season he can be a dependable 3-point shooter, was pressed into action. In Game 2 he scored a career playoff-high 10 points in 21 minutes. He averaged 6.0 points in 14 minutes in the series.

The performance was somewhat of a revelation to the coaching staff, which figured that in his proper place coming off the bench Mason could be a strong contributor to the second unit.

The Spurs saw this strength in him as well. Mason admits it was not easy to decline their offer.

“Obviously, San Antonio is a championship club,” Mason said of the Spurs, who have won four championships in the last nine seasons. “I thought it was humbling for them to pursue me. But at the same time, I was here last year, and I thought that was a learning step for me. I got very comfortable with and learned the system. I think one thing about establishing yourself in the league is continuity. I can benefit from that.”

Wizards associate head coach Mike O’Koren said Mason and forward Andray Blatche have been two of the biggest surprises during training camp.

Coach Eddie Jordan considered re-signing Mason one of the team’s highest priorities over the summer.

“Once we got past our core guys and got them set, he was definitely a guy we wanted to keep,” Jordan said. “There were other guys out there, but we always compared them to Roger, and we liked Roger all the time.”

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