Shelvin Mack isn’t the only Kentuckian who signed an NBA contract this offseason.
The New Orleans Pelicans officially announced Thursday morning the signing of former Mason County and University of Kentucky star Darius Miller, an agreement that was reported by multiple outlets a few weeks earlier.
Miller was in Lexington on Wednesday for Mack’s annual youth camp. It was the first time the friends who battled for 2008 Mr. Basketball honors — Miller ultimately won the award — had seen each other in about a year because Miller had been playing professionally in Germany.
“Darius is one of my best friends,” Mack said. “I’ve known Darius since I was about 10, I’m 27 and he’s 27 so that’s 17 years of friendship.”
He was glad Miller could come to camp this week and share his experiences with the kids in attendance.
“His resume is unbelievable and can connect with the kids the same way I can because he’s from here,” Mack said. “They can’t give anyone the excuse that ‘No one’s done it’ because he’s done it.
“He’s got Mr. Basketball; everybody in high school wants to be Mr. Basketball. He’s done it. He’s won a state championship. That’s what you want to do and he’s done it. He won an NCAA championship, he’s done that too. So don’t give me any excuses. Just come out, work hard and you can keep the ball rolling.”
Mack recently signed a two-year, $12-million contract with the Orlando Magic. At one time, though, the 27-year-old considered taking the same overseas path that Miller did.
The Washington Wizards drafted Mack, who played in two NCAA championship games with Butler University, with the 34th overall pick in 2011. He was waived by the team twice in the 2012-13 season before landing with the Maine Red Claws in the NBA’s developmental league. He played out two 10-day contracts with the Philadelphia 76ers before again joining the Red Claws.
He turned down an opportunity to play for CSKA Moscow, a successful EuroLeague programs, to give it one more go in the NBA. A 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks eventually gave way to multi-year deal with the squad.
It worked out for Mack, but he thinks he would have enjoyed playing overseas as well.
“It’s still quality basketball,” Mack said. “My biggest thing is I just want to play basketball, whether it’s in the NBA, here this weekend or overseas.”
‘They don’t have a championship’
Two of the most-talented centers in NBA history — Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard — were drafted by Orlando and spent a good chunk of their careers winning at a high level with the team. For whatever reason, though, the organization has had a hard time retaining its star players and attracting big-time free agents.
Meanwhile its southern neighbor, Miami, is frequently mentioned by premier free agents as a destination they’d consider.
Mack believes the Heat’s three titles are the biggest difference-maker between the NBA’s Florida franchises.
“A lot of people like Orlando,” Mack said. “I think the perception is that they don’t have it like Miami because they don’t have a championship. If you’ve got the championsihp, it brings a whole other dimension that you’re thinking about (as a free agent).”
‘Gotta be following’
The NBA has transformed into a year-round sport. The minute things start to slow down, reports of a star player like Kyrie Irving wanting to be traded gets the news cycle revved back up again.
“You definitely gotta be following and keeping up with it,” Mack said with a laugh. It’s very entertaining. All of this going down brings excitement. There’s more people talking about the NBA now than they do in the season because of the excitement you have and the buildup. It’s gonna be a fun year this year.”