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February 17, 2001 at the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla.

Thirteen seconds left in regulation. The game is tied, 66-66. Virginia has the ball. Donald Hand drives to the hole. The Seminoles defense collapses around him. He dishes to Roger Mason Jr. Mason's standing wide open, a good five feet behind the arc. With one second left, Mason elevates. Mason shoots. The Cavaliers win.

Mason is "a big game player," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. "He's got a lot of confidence. We're excited about Roger, and we think he can be one of the premier players in the ACC this year."

Last season, Mason repeatedly showed his big-game ability as the Cavaliers' biggest crunch-time threat.

In Virginia's pivotal Valentine's Day home matchup against eventual national champion Duke, Mason had the ball with the game on the line. After Shane Battier's free throws tied the game, Mason held the ball in his hands with 14 seconds left and did not panic. He waited until there were seven seconds left before he made his move. He got by his man, penetrated the middle and dished it to Adam Hall, who scored the game-winning basket.

In the Cavaliers' biggest game of the year, their NCAA first round matchup with Gonzaga, Mason rose to the occasion. He led Virginia with a career-high 30 points. Although Mason's final shot fell short as time expired, the junior guard still wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

"He's got a big heart, he steps up, and he takes the big shots," Gillen said. "Will he make it every time? Who knows? But he has the courage to take it. A lot of guys don't even want to take it."

While most of us students usually go home over the summer, Mason was on the other side of the world. He was selected to participate with the United States in the World University Games held in Beijing, China. Mason was not merely a participant - he was the starting small forward in all eight of the United States' games. Mason finished third on the team in scoring with 13 points per game. He also showed that he could rebound the ball well by pulling down 4.8 rebounds per contest to help the United States to the bronze medal.

"I think Roger got a lot better over the summer," Gillen said. "What I like even more is that he conducted himself with class. I was told that he represented his family, the team, and the University very well."

In China, Mason, a natural shooting guard, showed off his versatility by playing small forward. He probably will have to display more versatility for the Cavaliers this season by starting at point guard.

As the 2001-02 season gets under way, the Cavaliers will once again be without point guard Majestic Mapp. Mapp took a medical redshirt last season after tearing his ACL in the summer of 2000 but required further surgery on his knee in August and will need four to six months of recovery time.

"You wouldn't want to wish that on your worst enemy," Gillen said. "I feel bad for our team but even worse for Majestic. We just hope he can play next year. At this point Roger Mason will take that spot."

"I was looking forward to reuniting with Majestic," said Mason, who has performed admirably at the point guard in the preseason.

Although Mapp's unfortunate circumstances came as a shock to everyone, Mason is ready, willing and able to be the Cavaliers' floor general.

Last season, Mason played eight minutes per game at point guard while backing up Donald Hand.

"Him playing eight minutes per game last year was big," Gillen said. "A lot of times at the end of the year he was our point guard, we put the ball in his hands. He's more confident now and is better with the ball in his hands."

"I don't think you wake up in the morning and are a point guard," Mason said. "It was good for me to be a backup for Donald last year and this year I'll be able to get more experienced at it."

At his natural two-guard spot, Mason was free to move without the ball, find openings and attack. This worked well for Mason and the Cavaliers as he led the team in scoring last season by averaging 15.7 points per game. As the floor general, Mason likely will have to sacrifice many scoring chances.

"When you're a shooting guard you're moving without the ball," Mason said. "At the point you have the ball and have to direct the traffic. I'm not going to look at it as that big of a change, I'm going to try and get everyone the ball and pick and choose my opportunities."

Mason, however, does not seem to be a concerned over where he will be playing the season: "Basketball is basketball, if you can play ball then that's basically it."

Mason, a natural shooting guard, moved to the point when classmate Majestic Mapp could not return from knee surgery in time for the season.

Regardless of position, Gillen is very excited about what Mason will bring to the team.

"We're excited about Roger, we think he has a chance to be a special player this year and we think he can be one of the premier players in the ACC this year," Gillen said.

"I want to be a leader on this team," Mason said. "As a point guard, you're forced into that position. My job is going to be to make sure there's order on the court."

Mason certainly will be a leader for Virginia this season. Mason was named one of the tri-captains for the Cavaliers along with seniors Chris Williams and Adam Hall.

"It's a responsibility that I want," Mason said. "I feel I'm the leader of the team, I just want to lead by example."

Mason's followers already were eagerly waiting for him to return to the World University Games.

"I was waiting for him to get back from China so I could play against him," said freshman guard Jermaine Harper, whose style of play is a lot like Mason's. "Playing against him is one of the biggest things that can help me. Every time we play pickup games, I'm ready to play him. He's helping me out and helping my confidence out. I always ask him if there's anything I can do to work on my game."

Although last season the Cavaliers earned a NCAA tournament bid for the first time in the Gillen era, postseason success has yet to become a reality. Virginia has not won a postseason game over the past six seasons.

"As one of the leaders of the team, that's something that I make a big deal out of," Mason said. "I don't plan on losing in the first round of the ACC tournament and I don't plan on losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. To achieve greatness you have to have high goals. That's the type of approach we have to have as a team"


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