Mason Faulkner got a taste of college basketball’s biggest stage in 2017, coming off the bench for Northern Kentucky in a first-round loss against second-seeded Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
As a Kentucky native, the game, despite the result, was a dream come true for Faulkner. Yet he has been chasing a return visit to the Big Dance ever since, and now that quest is leading the talented all-around guard to Colorado.
On Friday, Faulkner announced his commitment to head coach Tad Boyle’s program as a graduate transfer from Western Carolina. A 6-foot-1 guard who will play for his third Division I team, Faulkner already has exhausted his traditional eligibility but will spend his extra season granted by the NCAA for the 2020-21 pandemic season with the Buffs.
“I’ve been thirsty for that feeling for three years now,” Faulkner said. “To be able to play in the Conference of Champions, a great league. Playing for a great coach in coach Boyle. I really believe in that staff. They have a track record of playing for NCAA Tournaments like they did last year. I’ve seen the roster they have and I really believe in those guys and what they put on the floor and what they produced in the tournament. I definitely feel like we can go to another level.”
Faulkner said he also received offers from Ole Miss, Indiana, Memphis, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Minnesota and had conversations with programs like Louisville, Cincinnati, and Iona. In the end, a CU program in need of immediate help in the back court alongside a talented young roster made the difference.
“It’s just the right fit for me,” Faulkner said. “As far as my college decision, it was all about the right fit, where I felt comfortable, and where I could spend my last year playing and win. I really feel like we can win there with what coach Boyle has going on.”
Faulkner was a third team All-Southern Conference selection this past season after averaging 16.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists for the Catamounts. He shot .355 from 3-point range (33-for-93) and .455 overall, adding a .762 mark from the free throw line (99-for-130).
Faulkner hit several final minute, go-ahead shots for Western Carolina, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Catamounts an overtime win against Tennessee Tech on Dec. 6. He was a first team All-Southern Conference selection in the 2019-20 season, when he averaged 17.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.9 assists.
A native of Glasgow, Kentucky, Faulkner spent his first two collegiate seasons at Northern Kentucky before transferring to Western Carolina. Faulkner redshirted during the 2018-19 season per NCAA transfer rules before leading Catamounts in scoring in each of the past two seasons.
For a Buffs team likely to lean heavily on its 2020-21 freshmen in addition to an incoming top-20 recruiting class, Faulkner adds a much-needed dose of experience to a team set to feature only two other seniors, Evan Battey and Eli Parquet, and no juniors in terms of eligibility.
CU still has one open scholarship to potentially work with this spring, but Boyle previously told BuffZone that with the 2020-21 freshmen set to take on bigger roles, in addition to the quartet of talented freshmen arriving this summer, that open slot might get parlayed into the 2022 recruiting class.
“It was a crazy process,” Faulkner said. “Coach Boyle and his staff did a great job of recruiting me as soon as I got into the recruiting process. I really just believed in what they have going on there. I really believe in Colorado basketball and coach Boyle. I saw McKinley Wright and what he accomplished there. And I’m not McKinley Wright, but I know for sure the direction coach Boyle has going on there and I want to be a part of it.”