JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Bashir Mason is looking forward to the challenge of taking over at Saint Peter's after its incredible run to the Elite Eight.
He understands that replacing Shaheen Holloway will be a tough act to follow after the Peacocks became the first No. 15 seed to reach the final eight in the NCAA Tournament, and fan favorites across college basketball.
Even tougher for the 38-year-old Jersey City native, who spent the past decade at nearby Wagner, will be keeping the Peacocks' roster intact. Starting guards Daryl Banks III and Matthew Lee are in the transfer portal and top reserve guard Doug Edert has decided to transfer to Bryant.
“Getting the roster settled is what I'm focused on,” Mason said Wednesday, shortly after being introduced as the Peacocks' new coach. Holloway left two weeks ago for the job at Seton Hall, his alma mater.
Banks, Lee and Edert were at the news conference in the refurbished Run Baby Run Arena along with Peacocks teammates and players from Wagner in Staten Island. Edert confirmed his decision to tranfer.
Banks said Mason tried to recruit him out of high school, so he knows him.
“I am listening to all my options," said Banks, who led the Peacocks, averaging 11.3 points. “I am just going to be open-minded to everything.”
Mason said he spoke Tuesday with the Peacocks, telling them that he is a worker and knows they are, too. He said he's not there to shake things up and wants to take the program to new heights.
Athletic director Rachelle Paul said there was a lot of interest in the Saint Peter's job from all walks of college and high school coaches. She ultimately said Mason was attractive because he reminded her of Holloway, who led the team to a 22-12 mark this past season and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title. Both men stress hard work, toughness and family.
Paul refused to disclose details of Mason's contract with the Jesuit university, which has an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,100 students.
Mason said he was in seventh grade when he first met Holloway, a fellow guard who never backed down. They got to play because both youngsters knew Chris Chavannes, the current coach at The Patrick School.
Mason played two seasons at Marist High School for Chavannes and got to play against older players during the summer after his coach left for St. Patrick High School. He frequently went head-to-head with Holloway, who attended St. Patrick, which became The Patrick School a decade ago.
“He probably won most of them,” Mason said of their matchups. “But I fouled him a lot because I refused to get blown out.”
That's the way Saint Peter's will be on the court, although Holloway had them doing that in knocking off Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue in the NCAA Tournament.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into Wagner and building up that program,” Mason said. “But this opportunity here was really difficult to turn down, and had nothing to do with the run they made to the Elite Eight. This is more about a new challenge. The bar has been set really high, and I’m excited about pushing the program further.”
This is the second time Mason has taken over a team after a big season. He replaced Dan Hurley at Wagner after a 25-6 season. Hurley left to go to Rhode Island and eventually to UConn.
Mason led Wagner to three Northeast Conference (NEC) regular-season titles, posting a 165-130 record. The Seahawks posted a 21-6 record this past season and appeared in the NEC title game. Wagner’s 15 conference wins matched the most in program history.
Wagner senior guard Elijah Ford said Saint Peter's is getting a really good coach who will let the players know where they stand.
“Come in ready to play 150% every day,” Ford advised the Peacocks. “I know now practice is the hardest thing I have to go through, so if your best battle is not in practice, I don't know what you are doing here.”
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