By: Monty Mosher
It's hard to be No. 1 anything.
There's been no shortage of great players to pass through AUS men's basketball.
If Javon Masters was special, a few scouts missed it. But not UNB.
The facts in the case are pretty evident now. The fifth-year guard from Kitchener, Ont., broke the AUS standard for career scoring last weekend, surpassing the former record of 2,069 held by ex-UPEI Panthers player Curtis Robinson. The record had stood for more than two decades.
The 23-year-old Masters, a two-time conference MVP, has 2,107 career points with the undefeated Varsity Reds, 6-0, hosting the Memorial Sea-Hawks for two games this weekend to complete the first semester.
The record chase might not have received the attention it deserved, and Masters is likely to blame. He's averaging 27.7 points per game through the unbeaten start, taking care of the record well before the exam break.
He had 72 points combined in a pair of road wins at Saint Mary's last weekend to soar into history.
None of it should come as surprise. He averaged better than 25 points per game in his first three seasons and narrowly missed last season despite some injuries and a greater role in the distributing the ball.
"Coming back for my final year, I knew that record was easily breakable," Masters said earlier this week. "But at the same time … my goal was more to win the AUS title for this program before my career as a Varsity Red was done.
"I knew I had the opportunity to break it. I didn't think it would be broken this soon. But it's all about team success and we're just trying to get better."
Masters deflects much of the personal accolades, but he knows what he brings to the floor. He knew he had some talent when he arrived in Fredericton as an 18-year-old freshman.
"I didn't think back then I'd be the all-time leading scorer in the conference. But I knew I had the potential.
"There were always naysayers and doubters, especially when I was coming out of high school. I used that as motivation to try to perfect my craft. I spent as much time in the gym as possible just to develop my game so I could be the best I could possibly be."
Cape Breton was a team that sought him out in those days, but some Ontario schools were less enthusiastic. He didn't see it as disrespectful. He didn't forget it either.
"Coming to UNB was definitely the best situation for me five years ago. I wouldn't change it. Coach (Brent) Baker and I have been close. We talk about everything. For him to be in my corner through all of this has really meant a lot to me and my family.
"I wanted to find a school that had faith in me and trusted my abilities. That's exactly what UNB did. I'm thankful UNB gave me an opportunity."
UNB won the Atlantic title in 1967 for its only banner. Masters has given the team the best chance since.
But playoff success has been hard to come by. The team lost in the semifinals last year as a No. 2 seed against Saint Mary's. The Huskies put them out in the quarter-finals the year before.
The Dalhousie Tigers bounced them in the semifinals on their way to a championship in 2014. UNB was the top seed that year.
"Fifth years are tough year for most U SPORT athletes," said head coach Brent Baker "Reality is knocking on the door at the end of the second semester. The team may be in transition in terms of personel, and friends outside of the team may have graduated and moved on. So for a fifth-year it's imperative—if he has some unfinished business or some goals that he wants to achieve in his final year of eligibility—to maintain the focus needed to be successful. Javon definitely has some unfinished business both personally and team wise. He wants an AUS title and the scoring record."
For Masters, the winning start to the new season is a testament to a strong team with potential. But it's nothing more than that.
"We're playing well and buying in on defence. I think we're No. 1 in opposition field-goal percentage. But there's some stuff we need to work on.
"You always want to get off to a good start when you are in a deep conference. You want to get one of the playoff byes and prepare yourself as best as possible for March 2-4 in Halifax. It can come around quicker than you think."
Boris Bakovic, who played at Ryerson and Calgary, had a career-best 2,319 points in Canadian university hoops. A healthy Masters could rip through that mark with time to spare.
A three-time all-Canadian and 2013 U Sports top rookie, Masters prepared for the season by getting a chance with the Canadian team for the world university games in Taipei. St. Francis Xavier's Kevin Bercy and Acadia's Erik Nissen were his teammates.
"I do feel the FISU experience was good [for him] in terms of learning from other players who are just as driven and motivated," said Baker. "Exposure to different coaching and teammates can't help but make you better."
"I was able to take the things I learned with those guys in Taiwan and bring it back to UNB to be able to lead these guys in the direction we want.
"Any time you are able to represent your country in whatever sport you play, it is always an honour. That's the highest point you want to achieve. Playing with all those guys was a great experience. To finish top-10 in the world really means a lot. I would do that trip again in a heartbeat."
He'll leave with more than the scoring record. His 690 successful free throws are already 279 more than former Acadia player Owen Klassen in second place.
He'll graduate in sociology this May. He wants to play professionally next year, but that dream can wait.
"I'm not really focusing on that right now. I'm focused on UNB."