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Springstead High basketball player follows in his mother's footsteps

Today at the Lakeland Center, Harriett Mason will probably find her customary spot up high, someplace she can stand, because sitting down won't be an option.

She will proudly watch her youngest son, Isaiah, lead his unbeaten Springstead High basketball team into a Class 4A state semifinal clash with top-ranked Pensacola as the 30-0 Eagles bid for the school's first state championship in any team sport.

She still is buzzing over his performance in the region championship Saturday — 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks — and what it all means.

Spring Hill buzzes with her. The school booked five charter buses for students wishing to attend this afternoon's contest. For 25 bucks a head, they get a seat on the bus, a game ticket and an 11:30 a.m. dismissal from classes. By Wednesday afternoon, the school had sold out two of the buses.

"I already told my administrators if they hear anyone screaming this week at school, it's just me," said Mason, who teaches in Springstead's exceptional student education program. "I've been screaming all week, I'm so excited."

Isaiah Mason, nicknamed "Daddy Long Legs" as a child by his mom for his slinky frame, could use another virtuoso performance. One where the 6-foot-5 forward and Eagles' leading scorer does it all: Score, block, pass and rebound. Especially rebound.

When he takes over games in every facet, that's when he reminds his mother most of, well, his mother.

• • •

Back in the day, Harriett Brumfield could not be stopped.

She dominated inside, scoring at will. She stepped back and hit shots from the outside when called upon. She blocked shots, an imposing force on the defensive end. She effortlessly cleaned up on both backboards, rebounding with aplomb.

An all-American at Tampa's Robinson High and all-American in college at Vanderbilt University in the early 1980s, she left both places as the best woman basketball player either school ever had.

What his mother could do might blow Isaiah Mason's mind.

"He knows," she said. "But I don't talk about it much."

Her boys, Isaiah and Nehemiah (a starter on last year's team), never saw their mother play. But they talk about her as if they did.

"They are proud of me," she said.

They tell their friends, who look on in surprise at some of the trinkets from her playing days and the trophy case that protects the game ball she was given after scoring her 1,000th point at Vanderbilt.

She was the first player in school history, man or woman, to do it. It's nothing Harriett wears on her sleeve. Quite the contrary.

"Sometimes like, when women's basketball comes on she talks about it," Isaiah said. "But that's about it."

But such humility belies the fact that this girl had game.

"She was ranked No. 2 in the country," said Tom Mosca, her high school coach and currently a coach at Jefferson High.

"She was the total package. She could not only play offense, but she could block shots on the other end, too. With her size (6-2) she was bigger than most of the kids that played. She liked to rebound. It was an easy thing for her."

After a season playing professionally in Europe, she came home, married a street preacher named Tommy Lee Mason in the summer of 1987, and started a family.

"She came in here (to a practice) once last year and shot around," said Ben Noury, a senior teammate of Isaiah's. "She shot a couple of free throws and coach said if she missed one we had to run.

"She made 'em both."

• • •

Harriett passed on her basketball gift to her sons, but not her enjoyment of school.

The daughter of an Army officer and music teacher, she was an A student at Robinson, and for a time carried a 4.0 grade point average at Vandy, earning academic all-American honors and a degree in fine arts and business.

Despite her best efforts, she had to pull Isaiah off the team as a freshman for poor grades and he failed to maintain his academic eligibility for part of last season, when his brother was a senior.

"It really was a difficult situation," Harriett said. "I have a daughter (Jacqueline) who graduated two years ago, she did well academically and is now in the Air Force. It's been a struggle with these boys."

In hindsight, she said yanking Isaiah off the team in ninth grade might have backfired. When he was deemed academically ineligible for the first part of his junior season, Isaiah says his mom took a more hands-off approach.

"She knew I wanted to play really bad, so she knew I was going to do what I had to do to play," he said. "So she just left it up to me."

When cleared to play, Isaiah's impact was immediate. The day before his first game against Land O'Lakes, he was undercut while elevating to the basket and landed hard on the Eagles' trademark blue gym floor. Coach Pat Kelly, fearing Isaiah had broken his back, summoned an ambulance.

The next night, in a loss to the Gators, Isaiah blocked seven shots and had three steals.

"I knew since last year that he was a special talent," Kelly said. "I kept saying to people about how good he could be. Nobody really seemed to get it."

Today, Isaiah says he holds a 2.3 GPA. A full 3 inches taller than he was this time last year, he leads the Eagles in scoring (19.6 points per game) and blocked shots (2.4), and is second in rebounding (6.2). Whereas Harriett says Nehemiah was more physical and muscular, Isaiah is more finesse.

"Nehemiah is like a rock song," she said. "Isaiah is like classical music."

Today, on the season's biggest stage yet, the Eagles need another command performance from their maestro.

"I don't see them playing any less than they have performed so far," Harriett said. "I see them getting better and better. I see them clicking and I see them winning. I see them winning."

John Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com. Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Today's stats

Springstead (30-0) vs. Pensacola (29-5)

When/where: 2:30 p.m. today, Lakeland Center, Lakeland

At stake: Winner advances to Saturday afternoon's Class 4A state title game

Admission: $9 per session

Parking: $7

TV: None for the semifinals, but Sun Sports will air tape-delayed broadcasts of the championship games

Radio: WWJB-AM 1450 in Brooksville

Web: www.wwjb.com

Blog: The Times will have a live blog from the game and video highlights at blogs.tampabay.com/preps/

Springstead High basketball player follows in his mother's footsteps 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 7:47pm]
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