‘IT’S AS GOOD AS IT GETS IN KENTUCKY’

Centre’s Greg Mason has been to Sweet 16 as fan, a player and now a college coach

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

LEXINGTON – Greg Mason had been coming to the Kentucky high school state tournament for over 40 years and is just glad to be back in Rupp Arena this week.

“I missed the last couple of years because of COVID, but it has been nice,” the Centre College head coach said during Thursday afternoon’s session of what is now known as the UK Healthcare Boys’ Sweet 16.

“I have been coming to this thing since 1976,” Mason said.

Centre College coach Greg Mason enjoys Thursday afternoon’s Sweet 16 games at Rupp Arena. (Photo by John Herndon)

That year is considered by many to be the tournament that “saved the Sweet 16.” Louisville teams had won six of the last seven tournaments and had both teams in the finals in 1973 and 1974. But in 1976, Edmonson County came from out of nowhere to win the tournament, beating Christian County in the championship game at Freedom Hall. It’s still considered one of the greatest tournament runs ever.

But the memory is not as rosy for Mason. His father, Eddie, was an assistant coach at Shelby County, which had just merged with Shelbyville that school year. Shelby rolled through the Eighth Region then advanced to the Sweet 16 semifinals. However, the Rockets were ousted by Edmonson, 53-52 on Saturday morning at Freedom Hall.

“Shelby County got beat,” Mason remembered. “There was a controversial walking call that everybody disputed.”

But the other Sweet 16 memories from his childhood are much more pleasant. His parents gave him an incentive to behave by giving the Sweet 16 as a reward. But he really had to behave to get out of school. He remembers when a voice would come over the intercom at Southside or Wright elementary schools or East Middle School in Shelbyville, “I knew who it was because he was coming to pick me up.”

Mason has seen the greats since his first trip: Jeff Lamp, Dirk Minniefield, Richie Farmer, Allan Houston, J.R. VanHoose and every other great player during that time.

And he’s been there for the great games. “I have been there since 1976 and have seen about every big game you can imagine. The 80s were great. The 90s were great. There were some special games I have seen.”

That includes the night of March 25, 1978. 

Shelby County was playing Holmes in the finals. Holmes looked like it had won the title on Dicky Beal’s basket with four seconds to play. But Shelby’s Charles Hurt hit a jump shot as time expired to send the championship game to overtime for the first time in history. Shelby prevailed, 68-66 for the school’s second state championship.

Mason, then in elementary school, was in the Shelby cheering section.

“I was actually standing next to (childhood friend) Matt Chandler and when Charles Hurt hit the shot, Ruth Kuhl, whose husband, Ron, was one of the assistant coaches, jumped up and down and landed on (Chandler’s) foot and I think broke his toe. 

“That was a pretty good weekend for me. Shelby County wins the state championship and Kentucky wins the national championship. I am thinking that is how it is supposed to be every year.”

Obviously, it doesn’t happen that way, but 12 years later, Greg Mason and his Shelby teammates played on the same Freedom Hall floor after winning the Eighth Region for the first time in eight years.

“We beat North Hardin (70-50) in the first game but then on Friday afternoon, Guy Strong’s Clark County team beat us (78-49),” Mason remembers. It was even more special that Greg’s father was Shelby’s head coach by that time.

Eddie Mason passed away in December 2020.

Greg Mason went on to a solid career at Centre College, where he now serves as head coach. The Colonels were eliminated in the first round of the SAA Tournament by Birmingham Southern and finished at 11-12, just two years after going 24-5 and 23-5 the year before that.

“We struggled a little bit this year,” Mason said. “We were young.”  He went on to explain that COVID hit the Colonels in more ways than a 3-5 record in the abbreviated 2020-21 season. 

“We have had better years,” Mason said.

But there were bright spots.  Senior Dustin Gerald averaged 19 points a game and was named first team all-conference.

This week, Mason is just happy to be back at the Sweet 16. “It’s been a good one,” he said. “Warren Central beating Male was a good one and last night, Pikeville beating North Laurel was a good one. Pikeville really did a good job on (North Laurel’s Kentucky commit) Reed Shepherd. I have seen him play several times. Reed Sheppard is a special player and a special kid. Last night was not his best, but he’s legit Top 15, Top 20 (players) in the country.”

When we caught up with Mason, he was chatting with longtime Henry County assistant coach Rick Schepman and had been talking with Don Irvine, a longtime coach at several schools around the state. 

“This is a highlight,” Mason said of a week when he gets to see some of Kentucky’s top talent. “I come and see friends and coaches. I hope they never change this and go to classes or anything like that. I have friends in Indiana who say, ‘We really screwed it up. It should have stayed the same way. 

“It’s as good as it gets in Kentucky.”

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