Javon Masters started the 2014 portion of his rookie CIS season with the same offensive punch that he did 2013, scoring 30 and 18 points in a doubleheader against the Dalhousie Tigers. Yet those two scoring outputs brought his scoring average down for the 2013-2014 season.
“I always have faith in my abilities and what I can do on a basketball court,” Masters says. “I’m just trying to help the team win no matter what.”
Masters, a native of Kitchener, Ont., is a rookie playing for the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Varsity Reds, and that’s both his gift and his curse. That’s where it’s about to get confusing, so apologies if your head spins around by the end of this.
It’s his curse in the sense that nine games don’t make a season. That’s the good news for other CIS teams. Those in that school of thought think that Masters, just a freshman, has been unstoppable so far this 2013-2014 CIS season, sure, but are also conscious that the season is only at the halfway point.
Let’s see if he can maintain his 30.3-point-per-game average—they preach a “wait and see” approach.
Let’s see if he can continue making baskets at a 52.9 per cent clip, or bury almost every other three-point shot he takes (i.e. his shooting percentage from beyond the arc is at 48.7). People from that school of thought, essentially, think that Masters has only played nine games—thus let’s wait before anointing him anything.
“I’m very surprised to see his actual numbers, and that’s not to take away from him,” says Kyle Julius, a CIS All-Canadian with the Guelph Gryphons in his time and trainer for Masters. [Editor’s note: Kyle Julius is also an NPH analyst] “I had those kind of nights every couple of months, but not every night.”
Masters does that every night, yes, as we’ll see later.
There’s another school of thought too.
That one says that this success, coming so soon already, is his gift. It says that if he’s been this dominant this fast, then imagine what he will be like if you give him another 11 games. Masters needs to embrace the potential, those from that school of thought say, the same way that they’ve embraced themselves the fact that he could be a special, special player. And they dream beyond his rookie season. Give him another two or three years, let alone half a season they say, to develop and adjust to the new level of play, and to adjust to a new province, and then we’ll all really be amazed. Who knows what he can do as a 22-year-old if he’s this good as a rookie? “Maybe not,” Julius says. “Maybe teams will figure him out.”
To do that, they’d have to consult the scouting report. Masters has weaknesses and strengths just like everyone—he’s still so young, and his game isn’t perfect. He’s such a gifted scorer, he says, because he has a quick first step that allows him to create his own shot and because of a good finishing ability around the basket. But he says that he needs to become stronger (i.e. that will come with age) and be more consistent with his jump shot.
UNB head coach Brent Baker will add Masters’s efficiency as a highlight of his game while pointing out that his weaknesses include defense—because defense can always be improved.
“When the blood’s in the water, they go after you. They’ll find you and expose you as quick as possible, and he knows that,” Baker says. “His basketball IQ is what sets him apart.”
Add maturity to his strengths—not just physically, but mentally too.
“He’s not afraid, that’s the biggest thing. He doesn’t act like a freshman. He doesn’t think he’s a freshman,” Julius says. “The fact that he’s really relaxed is a testament to what you can do when your mind is right and not tense.”
The Varsity Reds have already surpassed their total of six wins from a season ago, when the team finished a lowly seventh (i.e. out of eight teams) in the AUS conference with a 6-14 record. They were a good team that mirrored as a terrible one and also, at least according to the head coach, one that was unlucky with injuries. That’s why he thinks they underachieved—because of injuries. “We had so many injuries last year,” Baker says, “that we just couldn’t get any consistency.”
Injuries, of course, happen to every team. It’s the old equalizer, but the good teams will manage to overcome them. Think of Reggie Jackson stepping up this season for the Oklahoma City Thunder after injuries to Russell Westbrook.
This year, the Varsity Reds aren’t quite the NBA’s Thunder, but they are a good team. Before the season, they were adding rookies Masters, Dylan Baker, Hussein Egal and Alex Carty. Early on this preseason, the team was playing better than it had last year. The Reds were winning games, too, and Masters was providing a scoring punch and coming off the bench—until an injury to starter William McFee paved the way for the young rookie to start.
From there? Hell, for opposing teams. “I expected him to score 15 or 20 anyway, right?” Baker says.
Right, but Masters did a bit more than that. In his first game as starter on opening night against the Dalhousie Tigers, Masters scored 22 points. He followed that with outputs of 31, 44, 25, 31, 42, 30, 30 and 18 points while starting eight of his team’s nine games. What’s the one game where Masters did not start, you ask?
It’s the first contest against the UPEI Panthers, when he made 11 of 16 field goals and 20 of 26 free throws on his way to scoring 44. That game is a perfect example of how effective Masters has been this season. “He just doesn’t take bad shots,” Baker says. “He’s very mature with the ball. He can dominate the game without dominating the ball, which is very rare.”
Masters downplays his excellence.
“You just want to win, that’s the whole point of you going to a college program,” he says, “it’s to win and be on top.”
UNB sits just there, atop the AUS rankings with a 6-1 record when I speak with Masters. [Editor’s note: the team is now 7-2 and has 16 points, second to the Acadia Axemen’s 20 points.]
The same night that he tallied 44 points was also the night that the two-time reigning CIS player of the year Philip Scrubb scored as many in the Carleton Ravens’ win over the McMaster Marauders.
Masters, a mere rookie, equaled the onslaught of the three-time national champion and Canadian men’s senior national team invitee? Just to hear his name mentioned along that of the current best player in the CIS means a lot to Masters.
“Philip Scrubb. I mean,” he says, letting it sit there for a second. “Philip Scrubb, he’s played with NBA players, he’s played on the national team and he’s played on the development team.”
Masters hasn’t done all that, at least not yet. What he has done is work with Julius and **A* Game Hoops before his rookie season.
“Before this year, he had already played 10 or 15 CIS games,” Julius explains. Masters says that this experience prepared him for the CIS. He was one of the “five best high school players that we could find,” Julius says, and he made the program’s men’s development team. Julius and his colleagues have one aim when they’re working with young players like Masters. “My dream and hope is for them to play pro,” Julius says. “It’s not for them to get a scholarship, that’s like the middle step.”
It may be a middle step, but it’s still a pretty steep one.
“In high school you’re the man but as soon as you come to college, you’re at the bottom of the food chain,” Masters says. The step is huge, but you did get to compete against grown men, current or former professional players, current or former CIS players and so forth, during the summer. “My entire summer was devoted,” Masters says, “to training to become bigger, faster, stronger, and quicker.”
Both schools of thought are probably true, too.
It is scary to think of what Masters will be like in year four of his CIS career, but it’s also too early to decide that he’s the next great scorer in the history of the CIS. He himself will point out that just because he scored 44 points the very same night that Phillip Scrubb did, doesn’t mean that both players are equals.
What’s the rub, you say? Indeed, Masters will be the first to downplay the success he’s enjoyed so far this year. “It’s been a really great start, for both myself and the team,” is all he will say. He has visions of grandeur, of walking in the path of players like Scrubb before him. “I don’t want to say I’m up to that level yet, but at the end of my career, of course I want to be there,” he says. “You want to be the best at whatever you do.”
Masters seems to believe that the second school of thought is possibly the stronger endorsement for the folks in the first one—that he knows and understands that he still hasn’t accomplished anything just nine games into a rookie season makes it that more likely that he will accomplish bigger and greater things in the coming years. This in turn makes his early success that more impressive, being the only freshman in CIS history (to our knowledge) leading the nation in scoring.
So let’s try it out with our very own school of thought.
Masters is a gifted guard in the midst of possibly a timeless rookie season with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds. How’s that for hyperbole, right?
Maybe the right way to see this is for what it truly is.
“What this is,” Baker says, “is a really good start. And that’s all we can really call it. We’re more concerned with what’s it going to be at the finish line.” It’s nine games in, with 21 more to go.