Mason says ‘hallo’ to German pro league

  • Makai Mason, a Greenfield native, signed a professional contract with ALBA Berlin in Germany and will play in the EuroLeague this upcoming season. AP FILE

  • Baylor guard Makai Mason (10) reacts to a basket against Iowa State in action back in January. Mason, a Greenfield native, signed a professional contract with ALBA Berlin in Germany and will play in the EuroLeague this upcoming season. AP FILE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2019 10:08:49 PM

Guten tag, Makai Mason.

The Greenfield native has found a professional home in Germany, as it was announced late Monday that the former Yale and Baylor star point guard has signed with German club ALBA Berlin. It’s a two-year contract for Mason with ALBA Berlin, which plays domestically in the Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) and this year will also participate in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, the top professional basketball league in Europe.

“I’m definitely excited to know where I’m going,” offered Mason, who is currently in Waco, Texas, training. “I think just the team, the success they’ve had over the last few years, and the chance to play in the EuroLeague was huge for me. It’s kind of a rare thing that a rookie gets to play in the (EuroLeague). So those were probably the two main factors in my decision.”

Mason ending up in Germany shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. He holds German citizenship in addition to American citizenship, and has history playing with the German national team. As for the club he’s joining, ALBA Berlin is fresh off a strong 2018-19 campaign. Not only did the team play in the Bundesliga finals for the second year in a row, but it also managed to reach the 2019 EuroCup Finals, ultimately losing to Spain’s Valencia Basket, 2-1 in a best-of-three series. That runner-up finish vaulted the club into the EuroLeague for the impending season.

“I think he was open to going anywhere,” said Dan Mason, Makai’s father, from his Connecticut home Tuesday night. “He’s an adventurous kid and he’s smart and intelligent so he can adapt anywhere. He was looking for a good situation. The EuroLeague is the top league in Europe, so to play in it as a rookie is quite an honor. And Berlin is wonderful city to live in. It was a matter of finding a great situation to further his career and once the opportunity arose, it was actually a pretty easy decision for him.”

The 24-year-old started his collegiate career at Yale in 2014 before transferring and finishing at Baylor. He averaged 14.9 points and 3.4 assists in 28 games during his one-year stint with the Bears this past season.

“We are very happy that we have succeeded in signing Makai,” ALBA Berlin sports director Himar Ojeda said in a club press release to announce the signing. “He is a good passer, but at the same time he can fit very well and has a great understanding of the game. These are all attributes that fit very well with our playing style and give us the conviction that Makai will fit very well into our game system.”

Mason is represented by Beobasket, a Serbian agency specialized in the representation of professional basketball players and coaches worldwide. The agency represents a high number of players in the EuroLeague. The deal was signed a few weeks ago, but was officially announced on Monday.

It’s been a whirlwind for Mason, who worked out with a few teams prior to last month’s NBA Draft. He ultimately decided to sign in Europe, and has been busy preparing prior to leaving for rookie camp in mid-August.

“I’ve kind of been flying by the seat of my pants with my agent telling me week-to-week where to go and where to be,” Mason offered. “I’m just trying to stay healthy and ready.”

This year, ALBA Berlin will make the jump to the EuroLeague after its runner-up finish in the EuroCup. They’ll play the likes of defending champion CSKA Moscow and perennial power Real Madrid, with the new season set to begin Oct. 3. Other cities that Mason can expect to visit in the league? Milan, Barcelona, Athens, Istanbul and Madrid.

“With the double burden from BBL and EuroLeague, we have a challenging season ahead of us, where he will be very helpful in the two guard positions,” Ojeda said of Mason.

The club plays in the 14,500-seat Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin. The roster features several familiar faces in the U.S., especially in the backcourt where former Louisville star Peyton Siva was the team’s point guard last season. Former Michigan guard Derrick Walton and Boston College center Dennis Clifford are also on the roster, and the team is coached by Aíto García Reneses, who was the EuroCup Coach of the Year this past season.

“Berlin is awesome,” said Mason. “It’s kind of crazy to think about all the places where basketball can take you. It’s the best of both worlds, to get paid to play basketball and travel the world at the same time.”

Mason said that while his German leaves a bit to be desired, he’s looking to endear himself to the Berlin fan base on the court immediately.

“I’m just focusing on learning right away,” he said. “I’m trying to be a sponge around the guys that have been there, do anything the team needs. I’ve watched some of their games and the fans, they’re standing the whole time. It’s going to be fun. That’s why you play the game, to be in front of fans like that.”

Mason and ALBA Berlin will be busy this season, playing upward of 90 games between their domestic and EuroLeague slates. Guards are in demand as a result, with the team likely to utilize a heavy dose of backcourt players in their rotation.

“Usually teams carry four point guards and everyone plays 18 to 24 minutes per game,” Dan Mason said. “You’re playing over 90 games combined over the course of the season, you need to keep players fresh. I think it’s smart for the coaching staffs to have that versatility.”

After a wild journey that began at Yale, saw him miss two full seasons with injuries, and ultimately end up as a starting point guard in the NCAA Tournament last season with Baylor, Mason said he’s ready for the next chapter in a career that will take him around the world.

“All that hard work I’ve put in since childhood, all the rehab and everything that’s gone into the past few years, it really makes it feel worth it when you’re able to sign that contract,” he offered.

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