Commentary

Mack finds right fit with Bulldogs

Originally Published: April 4, 2010
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a strange coincidence that Butler's Shelvin Mack was selected Sunday to sit next to Kentucky's top spokesperson.

Shelvin Mack
Bob Donnan/US PresswireButler's Shelvin Mack scored 14 points in 25 minutes of work against Michigan State.

DeWayne Peevy, the University of Kentucky's public relations director who also works for the NCAA during the Final Four, happened to be placed next to Mack in a conference room for the assembled Final Four media.

Mack is from Lexington, Ky., and like most people from that city, let alone the Commonwealth, grew up a Kentucky fan. As he matured into a legitimate Division I prospect, his dream was to play for the Wildcats.

Who wouldn't? But he knew early on that he wasn't a fit for Tubby Smith's Wildcats, who went elsewhere early in the recruiting process before Billy Gillispie took over for Smith as Mack's high school career progressed.

So often the easy thing to do is take a jab at the local school for not recognizing talent in its own city or state before he joins another institution. There have been countless examples -- some more notable than others, like when the local media questioned Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun for not recruiting Waterbury's Ryan Gomes, who starred for nearby Big East rival Providence.

Sometimes a player isn't the right answer at the opportune time for an elite program. Scholarship openings don't always occur at the same time a player like Mack is available.

"I realized that they weren't recruiting me, so I was looking for other schools and found the right one for me," Mack said on the eve of playing for the national title against Duke.

"I wanted to go to a school that could showcase my talent."

Mack was on an AAU squad with plenty of recognition during the summer. The D1 Greyhounds also had Ohio State's William Buford and Kentucky's Darius Miller. But Mack's role wasn't to stand out on that team, even though on his high school team he was a big-time scorer with 1,725 points and more than 500 assists at Bryan Station High.

He plays to win and does what he can to get his teammates involved. He's just a winner.

-- Gordon Hayward on Shelvin Mack

"I wasn't the right fit," Mack said. "That was OK. It didn't bother me. It was very easy for me to be overshadowed. My job on the team was to [assist] other players and make sure they did their jobs."

Mack said once he committed to Butler and it was apparent that he was headed to Indianapolis, there was sudden interest from Gillispie. He said Gillispie offered a scholarship, but Mack was locked in at Butler.

All Mack has done since he arrived at Butler is win. He started all 32 games as a freshman when the Bulldogs won 26 games. He started all 37 games this season.

In June 2009, when he arrived in Colorado Springs at the USA Basketball trials, he was not expected to be the point guard for the Under-19 world championship team. The job was going to go to Connecticut's Kemba Walker, but he withdrew. Pitt's Ashton Gibbs and Duke-bound transfer Seth Curry also came in with a bit more hype than Mack. Mack was an afterthought, along with teammate and classmate Gordon Hayward. Yet Mack made the team easily.

He was named captain, and led the U.S. to gold in this event for the first time since 1991.

"They saw that he was a great player and that he's a winner," Hayward said. "He plays to win and does what he can to get his teammates involved. He's just a winner."

[+] EnlargeMack
Anthony Au-Yeung/Icon SMIMack helped lead Team USA to a 9-0 record at the Under 19 World Championships.

Hayward said the U.S. team was a collection of individuals when it started, as you would expect, but it was Mack who gathered them together to ensure they were a team in the short three-week window they were together.

"That's why he was named captain," Hayward said. "He does all those little things to win. Some games he would score and it helped our team. Other games he would come in and dish out assists and get rebounds. I'm really proud of him for that."

After coaching Mack and Hayward on that gold medal run, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the one thing he learned that summer was that he "didn't want to play Butler."

The comparison of Mack to NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups has been made, and it's possible. And Mack's leadership capabilities, for this level, are hard to dispute.

On Saturday night, Mack was battling a stomach issue that he thought was food poisoning. Despite the magnitude of the stage, he didn't push the coaching staff to get on the court.

"I wouldn't be able to go 100 percent, so I didn't want to short-change my teammates," Mack said.

Butler beat Michigan State despite the fact that Mack played only 25 minutes. The Bulldogs haven't lost since Dec. 22 at UAB.

"It's just a confidence we have in each other to get the job done no matter what obstacles we face," Mack said. "We take a lot of pride in being a group of guys that come in and work hard every day. We're not worried about rankings or what happened in high school.

"It would be a great feeling to be able to get it done and shock a lot of people. The coaches know the great teams and the hard schedule. People see Butler and most people are like, 'Who's that?' They don't know the tradition and what goes with it."

What the world is watching is just how much of a winner Mack has become and likely would have been wherever he landed. Kentucky might not have been the right fit two years ago, and that's fine. The Wildcats did quite well with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe this season. With Mack on board, Butler isn't complaining, either.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com