Upon transferring to Charles Audenried High, Juawann Mason had visions of running the floor and burying jump shots.
Then he began taking classes and walking the hallways and meeting more kids, and he almost began to wonder: Does this place have a height limit?
If anyone ever decides to remake "The Wizard of Oz," Audenried could be fertile ground for new Munchkins. OK, so we exaggerate. A little. Fittingly.
Mason, formerly of Horace Furness, is a 5-11, 155-pound junior. His position isn't wing guard, or small forward, or even power forward. On a team where no one taller than 6-foot is part of the rotation (one deep sub, who rarely plays, is 6-3), Mason serves as, geez, hey, by default let's call him the center.
"You could say that," he noted, laughing.
At some schools, kids asked to play way out of position remain forever grumpy. They're gettin' dissed. Their future is being ruined. If only I had a coach who would put me in the right spot . . . To his credit, Mason accepts his role and gives his all.
That highly admirable character trait was evident yesterday as Audenried, back playing varsity basketball after a 5-year absence, hosted the championship game in its four-team Winter Classic.
With Mason claiming 17 rebounds and adding 11 points, the Rockets topped Parkway West, 63-58.
"I know I've got to be aggressive, even if guys are bigger than me," Mason said. "You just box out and do what the coaches tell you. Guys on some teams are way bigger, but I can't be scared out there.
"I hoped to play guard. But look at our team. It's like everybody's small. We ain't too big, but we fight. I'm part of that."
During its most recent Public League season (2004-05), the school, right off the east side of the Schuylkill Expressway between Tasker and Morris streets (and a junior high in the first part of its existence), was still housed in a decrepit building and its sports teams were going by Warriors.
This is year No. 3 in bright, new digs and the first senior class will graduate in 2012.
There's no getting around it. The old Audenried owned a quite-the-hellhole reputation. The neighborhood immediately abutting the school features lots of appealing, new houses, though, and the overall mindset is much improved.
That's one reason Mason's mother, Cindy, allowed him to transfer. The family lives close by, near 30th and Moore, and the last thing Mom Mason originally wanted him to do was attend school in the neighborhood.
"I'm happy I came over here," Juawann said. "I just reached that point where I said, 'Why not go here?' And my mom gave her approval."
Big-boarding games are nothing new for Mason, whose season high is 20.
"You have to box out and hustle," he said. "You have to feel like every rebound's yours."
With a shade over 3 minutes left, Audenried was almost in coast-home mode. But 54-43 quickly became 54-48 as tiny Larry Webster (19 points, three apiece of assists and steals) hit a trey and then added a layup off a steal. The Hoyas then hustled for six of the next eight points, drawing within 56-54 at 1:36 as Terrell James converted Webster's feed for an easy layup.
Off his ninth steal, Mike Stewart (also 16 points) made a layup at 13.8 to keep PW within 61-58. Audenried sophomore Qaadir Nock (14 points) missed a one-and-one at 12.9. As PW's Kahlil Keel claimed his ninth board, he also fell to the floor. His over-the-shoulder flip toward a teammate was picked off by Audenried's Daquan Jones, who deposited a clinching layup.
Jones (14 points) also went 3-for-4 at the line in the final 63 seconds. Maurice Wiltbanks added 10 total points for coach Tina Wiggins, who last year coached Furness, while subs Eric Hovington and Lamont Bligen halved 20 rebounds.
When the buzzer sounded, the cheerleaders came rushing across the court and soon, it seemed as if every last joyous fan was grouping the Rockets for pictures.
Then, Juawann Mason was proving he can do more than rebound. Correctly assess a situation, for instance.
"Well, this is our first championship," he said. *