Antoine Mason is ready to take his game to a bigger stage. After finishing last season as the nation's second-leading scorer, the 6'3 guard decided he had done all he could at Niagara. Mason announced earlier this week he's transferring to Auburn to play under new head coach Bruce Pearl, where he'll be eligible immediately under the graduate-transfer rule.
Only Doug McDermott averaged more points per game than Mason last season. He scored 25.6 points per game on 44-percent shooting from the field. It was impressive, but scoring like that is a lot easier in the MAAC than the SEC, and Mason knows it.
Niagara wasn't well known by everyone, but for Mason, it was the perfect place to start his college career. His decision to transfer won't change his standing there, where he'll continue to be liked and supported. In a phone interview, Mason talked about why he decided to leave the school and he expressed how much he enjoyed his time there.
"I love Niagara," he said. "I wish I could have stayed there my whole career, but things changed. The coach did not want me to score as much or play as many minutes as I did last year. It being my last year, I wanted the best opportunity to make it and being restrained from excelling was not going to be it."
Mason had to take the emotional side out of it and find a situation that would benefit him and potentially raise his stock in the eyes of NBA scouts. Mason's father Anthony played in the NBA from 1988-2003, starring as a rugged power forward on the New York Knicks next to Patrick Ewing.
Mason will always remember his time Niagara for teaching him new things abut life and basketball. I asked him about what will he remember about the school and he gave an emotional answer.
"All the memories with the teammates, coaches, students and teachers. It's my second family." Mason will really miss the school, but if he wants to get a chance to go pro, he needed to make the move to play for the Tigers.
Auburn had plenty of competition to land Mason. He considered Providence, Cincinnati, Memphis, Pittsburgh and LSU before ultimately deciding to play for Pearl. The added exposure that comes with playing in a better conference is obvious. Mason also wanted to find a school that allows its guards to shine.
Nobody really knew who was the favorite when Mason decided that he was transferring from Niagara. A lot of schools were in contact with him. He had some basketball reasons for choosing Auburn, but most of the reasons were more so personal and how people made him feel when he took a visit to the school.
"The campus was amazing, but the people treated you like family," he added. "The coaches, players, football players and everyone else made me feel like I was home."
Playing under Pearl is a really big deal because he's been around the game for so long. He will have high expectations for his team this season. Mason is a huge asset for a rebuilt Tigers squad.
"Expectation is SEC championship and NCAA Tournament. I never set my goals low. In order for me to the best player, I want teams to have fear when they go against us."
Even though Mason scored at will last year, he does want to improve a couple of things that he has been working on.
"I want to improve my defense and I want to get a little better with my handles," Mason said. He knows what he can already bring to a team.
"A leader, a competitor and someone who hates to lose. People already know about my scoring ability."
Mason doesn't lack confidence. He wants Auburn fans to bring some popcorn next season. With Mason's scoring ability and Pearl's excitable coaching style, it should be a fun season for the Tigers.