Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mason And Mason

Mason Sachson was here the other day.

Mason is three. He's coming up on the first day of preschool in a few weeks. That's a big milestone.

Mason's father is Craig Sachson. If you're reading TigerBlog, then that probably means you're a regular reader of, which means you're a regular reader of stuff from Craig Sachson. And a regular viewer of Craig's videos.

Craig covers 12 sports here at Princeton. TigerBlog is reasonably sure that there aren't too many Division I athletic communications types who cover more sports than Craig. Or maybe any.

The Princeton football videos that you've probably seen are his. So is everything else football related.

For the record, here are Craig's 12 sports: football, women's volleyball, men's volleyball, men's squash, women's squash, wrestling, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, men's heavyweight rowing, men's lightweight rowing, women's open rowing, women's lightweight rowing.

That's a lot, by the way.

Anyway, Craig had some childcare issues the other day, and he had to take football head shots. So he brought along Mason and his older sister Maddie, she headed into second grade, for a few hours.

This was an actual conversation:
"What's your name?"
"Do you have a lot of energy?"

Turns out Mason was lying. He has unbridled, could-power-large-cities energy. He's three. Of course he does.

It didn't take long for him to outgrow the physical constraints of the Office of Athletic Communication. TigerBlog, sensing that Craig was a tad busy, offered to take Mason and Maddie down to that magical children's playground downstairs, known as the main floor of Jadwin Gym.

Down to the track they went. Off went Maddie. After her went Mason. Then Maddie tried long-jumping. Then Mason did.

First, though, he took off his Crocs, since he didn't want to get sand in them. Then he ran towards the pit, all the way to the edge, and took off with all his might.

He probably went about six inches before he landed, face-first of course. Then he stood up, brushed himself off and announced "I'm okay. I'm okay."

So yes, Mason has some energy.

TigerBlog figures Mason Sachson stands in the three-foot tall range.

Mason Rocca? He stands 6-9. Or at least he did back when he was on the Princeton men's basketball team, before he graduated in 2000.

TigerBlog knows this for sure. Why? Because he measured him one day in the team room.

Actually it was then head-coach Bill Carmody who did. He wanted to list Mason as 6-9 after he'd originally been listed at 6-7, and he guaranteed that he was 6-9. To prove it, he broke out a tape measure.

This was in sneakers, but hey, he played in sneakers, right?

If, like TigerBlog, you followed the Princeton men's basketball team closely in those days, then there's around a 100% chance that you loved watching Mason Rocca. A bull from Evanston, Mason Rocca is the single most unstoppable force TigerBlog has seen play for Princeton - when healthy.

And that's a big caveat.

Rocca, unfortunately, spent much of his career nursing nagging injuries, and as a result he never was able to be the consistently great player he otherwise would have been. And TigerBlog means great. As in, as great as any player Princeton has had in the last 25 years.

Mason was strong and relentless. He was a beast near the basket. He was a tenacious defender and rebounder. There was no loose ball that he didn't try to get.

He was playing double figure minutes most games off the bench in the first half of his sophomore year, which was the year Princeton went 27-2, was ranked in the Top 10 nationally and had the best record in Division I. His season essentially ended when he broke his wrist in early February, and TigerBlog has always wondered what a completely healthy Rocca would have meant in the NCAA tournament second-round loss to Michigan State.

As it is, TigerBlog remembers four games of his in particular.

There were two his junior year. One was the huge comeback game at the Palestra, when Rocca, Brian Earl and Gabe Lewullis willed Princeton back from a 40-13 deficit to win 50-49. Rocca's numbers that night were 13 points and six rebounds, but he was everywhere in that second half.

There was also the NIT game at Jadwin against Georgetown later that year. In that one, Princeton had five players go all 40 minutes (TB wonders if that's the last time that's happened in a Division I game), and Rocca had six points and 18 rebounds against the Hoyas. Yes, 18 rebounds.

As for the two games his senior year, one was at Bucknell, a 52-50 Princeton win after the Tigers had trailed 27-14 at the half. The game-winner came when Rocca rebounded a missed shot, dribbled about eight feet back away from the basket and then swished a hook shot at the buzzer. He finished the night with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Then there was the game at Rutgers five days later. In that one, a 66-60 Princeton win in OT, Rocca went for 28 points and 15 rebounds. Those are not the kind of numbers that have been duplicated often at Princeton.

Unfortunately for Rocca, injuries pretty much wiped out the second half of his senior year as well.  TigerBlog figures that if he'd been 100% healthy his entire career, he would have gone well past 1,000 career points, instead of the 434 he finished with. Hey, the 28 points that night at Rutgers would be 21 percent of the points he'd score that season.

Rocca did go on to have a huge pro career in Italy, and he will be honored near his hometown, when Armani Olimpia Milano, his old team from Italy, takes on Maccabi Tel Aviv at Chicago's United Center on Oct. 1.

When TigerBlog saw the story about that night on, it took him immediately back to Mason Rocca's days at Princeton.

Those were days of one injury after another, injuries that robbed him of what could have been a career as good as any Princeton basketball player TigerBlog has ever seen live.

When he was healthy, there was nobody else quite like him.

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