Revamping his diet brings Duquesne’s Micah Mason back to his game

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TUESDAY ON ASN: LaSalle at Duquesne, 7 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

Given Micah Mason overcame a mysterious illness as a teenager and five hip surgeries by the time he was a sophomore in college, being stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for nearly 24 hours would seem to be little more than a nagging inconvenience.

The Duquesne men’s basketball team was to return to Pittsburgh from Virginia on Friday night after a win at George Mason that afternoon. Return they did, but the excursion took 30 hours. A confluence of factors including jack-knifed tractor-trailers and a relentless pounding from Mother Nature resulted in a perfect winter storm that literally stopped the Dukes in their tracks about 80 miles from their Pittsburgh campus.

“We had no idea how long we were going to be there,” said Mason, a senior guard. “We started to play charades and we were just doing the most we could with what we had. We were doing Twitter polls to see who should get kicked off the bus and we just tried to do different things. It was hard, but at the same time we enjoyed ourselves.”

Mason was far from enjoying himself the summer before his senior year at Natrona Heights High School in suburban Pittsburgh. He was suffering from extreme fatigue, heart palpitations and disequilibrium. Play basketball? Heck, many days he had trouble getting out of his bedroom.

“It was weird because normally I was a healthy kid,” he said. “I had so much anxiety over what was going on that I did not want to leave my room. It was that bad. There were days I just wanted answers. I was going to tons of doctors that wanted to put me on different medicines, but I wanted to get to the bottom of it and not just take medicine to feel better. I wanted to find out why my body was doing these things.”

Test results revealed that everything was fine with his heart. While that was good news, the question remained as to what was bothering him. Several more tests and nearly three months into the ordeal an answer arrived: gluten sensitivity. The technical term for Mason’s condition is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) with the trigger being one that is dietary in nature.

A revamped diet that includes plenty of steak, rice, veggies and chicken, has greatly helped. From time to time he still gets heart palpitations, but knowing why renders them so much easier to deal with.

“I am not perfect with my diet, but it is something I am aware of and I try to eat the best I can,” said Mason, whose mother, Karen, was subsequently tested and revealed to have gluten sensitivity as well.

In the off-season of his sophomore year of high school Mason was dealing with another issue, albeit one that was clearly defined. He endured three hip surgeries, two on the left.

He had no problems the remainder of high school, but at the beginning of his freshman season at Drake, where Mason started his college career before transferring to Duquesne, he had a left hip labral tear.

He played through it and averaged 5.4 points while leading the Missouri Valley Conference in three-point shooting at 50.6%. When X-rays of his left hip were taken in the off-season it was revealed that his right hip needed work as well. So that made it five hip surgeries overall.

During his freshman year Mason was winning the battle against gluten sensitivity thanks in large part to Karen getting an apartment in Des Moines, Iowa so she could help with his diet. While Mason enjoyed Drake, the feeling was that with everything going on it would be better to go to school and resume his basketball career closer to home. The NCAA ruled that given his continued battle with POTS he could transfer without having to sit out a year.

That decision allowed Mason to have an immediate impact on the Dukes. He made a remarkable 56% of his 3-point shots (65-of-116) while averaging 10.6 points as a sophomore. He tailed off to what was still an eye-opening 44.7 percent last season and entered this year as the second-most accurate three-point shooter in NCAA history at 49.2 percent.

“Being one of the best 3-point shooters in the country is something you do not want to think about because you have to go out and play the game,” he said. “But at the same time, when you are being told you are the No. 2 (three-point shooter) in history, it is on your mind. It is not something that affects me. It would be cool to be second or first on the list, but I am at Duquesne to win basketball games.”

The Dukes (13-7, 3-4 Atlantic 10) will attempt to do just that on Tuesday night on ASN against visiting La Salle (5-12, 1-5). Mason enters the contest shooting 40.1 percent from beyond the arc while placing second in team scoring (15.8 points) and leading the way in assists (4.2).

Scheduled to graduate in May, Mason is a psychology major with a business certificate and also minoring in theology. He likes to think he will still be playing basketball a year from now.

“Playing overseas would be great, or wherever I could play,” he said. “I would then like to get into coaching or personal instruction.”

He could certainly instruct on how to cope with the big and not-so-big things.

Above: Switching his diet to a diet rich in steak, rice, chicken and vegetables has helped Micah Mason return to the court. His recovery from five hip procedures brought him to Duquesne. (Courtesy Duquesne Sports Information)


Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.