Shelvin Mack will have a homecoming on Thursday when the Wizards make their lone trip to Indiana and he returns to the city where he spent the past three years helping to elevate Butler into a relevant college basketball program. Mack will also only be about three hours from his hometown of Lexington, Ky., so he will also be surrounded by family and friends.
His college coach, Brad Stevens, will not be in attendance since he will be in New Orleans for meetings and other responsibilities during the Final Four, Mack said. “He’s coming to Chicago to watch me though” on April 16.
A year removed from being on college basketball’s biggest stage, Mack can finally understand the magnitude of what the Bulldogs were able to accomplish. A poor shooting performance prohibited Butler from finishing the task against Connecticut and avenge a defeat in the previous title game when the Bulldogs were one Gordon Hayward halfcourt heave from upending Duke.
Butler didn’t qualify for the tournament this season. With his original pick to win the title this season, Missouri, eliminated in the first round, Mack has decided to go with Kentucky.
“It’s kind of weird,” Mack said when asked about watching the tournament as a fan. “You don’t realize how big it is, until you’re not playing in it anymore. When you’re playing in it, it’s just another game. But when you’re watching from a distance, it’s a big event. A lot of guys work their whole lives to get that opportunity to play.”
Mack didn’t have to spend much time going back and forth about entering the NBA draft. Shortly after Butler lost to Connecticut in the NCAA championship game last April, Mack knew that he wasn’t going back to school for his senior season.
“It gave me confidence,” said Mack, who averaged 17.8 points in 12 NCAA tournament games, including 30 in the national semifinal against Virginia Commonwealth. “I won’t be one of those guys that looks back on my career and says I wish I would’ve did this, I wish I would’ve did that. I think in my college career, I went to two NCAA championships. I also won a gold medal with the USA FIBA team, so it really wasn’t too much I could do in college.”
But Mack didn’t know that he would still be in Indianapolis in the fall. Because of the NBA lockout, Mack stayed around the campus, where he matured into an eventual NBA player and worked out regularly with former teammates Matt Howard and Hayward, now of the Utah Jazz. He also found time to train with other NBA players from the area, such as New Orleans guard Eric Gordon and Pacers guard George Hill.
“It was really good,” Mack said. “In Indianapolis, you’ve got a lot of pros there. Those are the type of guys you can work out with, especially for the guard position for me. So it was a great experience, hanging out, throughout the lockout, working every day.”
Mack is averaging 3.6 points, 1.6 assists and 1.6 rebounds in his rookie season but feels that the lessons from his college career continue to play out in the NBA.
“It helped me out a lot, especially when it came to the NCAA tournament. It comes down to a lot of two or three possession game, any possession can cost you a game,” he said. “It’s kind of translating over to this. I’m trying to help my teammates get over that hump, because it’s a full 48-minute game, like in the NCAA, it’s a full 40-minute game.”
But Mack realizes he still has so much more to learn, especially since Coach Randy Wittman made him a part of the regular rotation after Flip Saunders was fired. “It’s been great for me. I’ve had an opportunity to play in most of the games,” Mack said. “I’m just trying to learn each and everyday, take care of your body. I’ve actually been feeling a little heavy lately. But just getting the proper rest, all the little things that people don’t see until you actually start playing these games.”