CHICAGO — When you've competed against the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook, the NBA Combine here is not so intimidating.
Former Butler guard — and Lexington native — Shelvin Mack found himself in that favorable position. He played against world-class point guards last summer as part of a collegiate contingent helping prepare the U.S. entry in the World Championships.
The experience gave Mack confidence coming here.
"I've been there and done it," he said. "There was no question of seeing whether I can or if I'm able to do it."
Mack and a select group of college players worked out against the pros for a week in Las Vegas last year, then another week in New York.
"I was playing against the NBA MVP," he said of Rose, the Chicago Bulls' star. "I had no choice but to get better."
Improvement was a painful experience. It came with a huge dose of humility and reminded Mack of the poor side of the college basketball street.
"We were sort of like walk-ons every day," he said. "It was tough going every day."
Of course, Rose and Rondo were much quicker. Mack recalled the NBA stars whooshing to the basket seemingly in one dribble, while college players needed more time to get there.
But Mack said he used his strength and intelligence to give as well as take against the pros. For instance, he noted how he could get something done against a slower NBA five-man on a pick and roll.
The U.S. team owns the gold medal in the World Championships in Turkey.
"You know, we were the only team to actually beat them through the whole process," Mack said. "We beat them in one practice. I don't think they took that too kindly. The next few days were pretty rough."
Mack remains in contact with Rondo and another NBA veteran who participated with the U.S. team, Chauncey Billups. Each passes along advice.
"We have similar games," Mack said of Billups. "We have leadership qualities."
Mack, who played for Bryan Station, did not think much about an NBA career until he competed against Rose, Rondo and company. The experience made the NBA seem like a more realistic goal, he said.
The experience also offset any blow to the ego created when Kentucky largely bypassed Mack.
"It's kind of frustrating when you're five miles from the school you like and they didn't recruit you," he said. "They just never gave me a chance."
The Tubby Smith era made Mack a Kentucky fan. "Great teams year in and year out," he said. "That's when I really loved them."
Kentucky belatedly offered Mack a scholarship. By that time, he had committed to Butler, and would not renege.
That proved a blessing as Mack and Butler stunned the college basketball world by advancing to the 2010 and 2011 Final Fours. Mack came to believe Butler's reliance on team play rather than individual brilliance became a perfect platform for him to succeed.
"Coach (Brad) Stevens does a great job recruiting team-oriented type guys," he said.
Whether NBA scouts place a high value on players who advance to the Final Four is an open question. Mack thinks they do, or at least should.
"I think it means a lot," he said. "I feel I'm one of the few guys here who have been there and done that. I've been in all the big games you can play in."
That kind of success can translate to any level, he said.
"It shows you I'm capable of going through the grind of a season," Mack said." I didn't have a great season this year. Yet I kept improving and I was able to get my team (to the Final Four).
"That shows you I have a winning mentality. A lot of people want to do things for themselves. Butler has a team atmosphere. If you play as a team, you're able to accomplishment great things."
That sense of accomplishment gave Mack confidence coming to the combine. When asked if he felt he was as good as such celebrated point guards as Kyrie Irving of Duke or Brandon Knight of Kentucky, he said, "I would say so. Those guys are great players. I feel like I'm a great player. Each guy brings something different to the table."
Mack saw himself bringing strength, experience and a can-do confidence.
After all, as he noted more than once, he's been there and done that.