Shelvin Mack was lightly recruited out of high school and even had to endure hearing from some low mid-majors that he "wasn't good enough" to play for their programs. He used the slights to ignite him and he went on to lead the Butler Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA championship games.
Mack's success since leaving high school — which really began when he captained the gold medal-winning USA under-19 world championship team — had some people in his hometown of Lexington wonder why he didn't go to more prestigious programs such as Kentucky or Louisville. But he could truly smile at those who doubted him when the Washington Wizards selected him 34th overall in last Thursday's NBA Draft.
"I can cross out something on my bucket list," Mack said with a laugh on Tuesday at his introductory news conference with Chris Singleton. "I always believed in myself that I'd have this opportunity."
His performances in the NCAA Tournament — in which he scored 30 points against Pittsburgh, 27 points against Florida and 24 points against Virginia Commonwealth — contributed to Mack deciding to leave after his junior year. Although he wanted to win at least one NCAA title, Mack was pleased with his college experience. "Coming one shot away one year and (losing because of) shooting the worst in NCAA history (the next). I had an opportunity a lot of other people didn't have. So I look at it that way," he said.
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Mack was disappointed that he wasn't taken in the first round, but had no problem with coming to Washington, where he already had previous relationships with Trevor Booker and John Wall. "Me and John have known each other for like two years now. He was at UK. I'm from Lexington, Ky., so I'm like 10 minutes away from campus. I knew him from that," said Mack, who added that the familiarity would make the transition to the NBA smoother. "It creates a family atmosphere, because you already know these guys. You understand what they like to do and don't like to do. That makes everything easier on the court, because if you're able to get along with someone off the court it will help on the court."
Mack said he understands that his primary role will be to back up Wall, but he hopes they will make each other better in practice. And Coach Flip Saunders believes that Mack and Wall will share the backcourt at times.
"I think that they can play together for a couple reasons. I think number one is that John is almost 6-5, he's big with long arms. He has the ability to play both positions defensively and I think Shelvin does with both his strength and his ability to shoot the basketball," Saunders said.
Saunders was high on Mack after seeing him work out with other draft prospects in Minnesota last May. Through his encounters with Mack during his workout earlier this month and in drills with the coaches this week, Saunders has compared the 6-foot-3 guard to Hall of Famer, two-time NBA champion and his former boss in Detroit, Joe Dumars.
"He's strong. Able to shoot from the perimeter. His temperament is like Joe," Saunders said.
When asked which players he modeled his game after, Mack said, "Growing up, I watched Kobe Bryant and Jordan, then I realized my game is nowhere similar to theirs. I just started watching some other players. Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams."
Mack was able to train against Billups and other star point guards such as Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook last summer as a member of the USA Select team that scrimmaged against the gold medal-winning world championship team. "It was tough out there guarding those guys. It was a humbling experience for us," Mack said.
Falling out of the first round was humbling as well, but Mack has another source for motivation. "I didn't think I'd fall this far. It worked out for me. It's the perfect situation for me," Mack said of joining the Wizards. "Some guys just always want to go in the first round, but you might end up in a bad situation. I feel like, I landed in great place and I have an opportunity to play ... I feel it's a lot of young guys. I didn't want to go into an environment with a lot of young guys you can't relate to them. John Wall's young. Booker's young. Nick Young is young. (JaVale) McGee. Being able to hang out with guys off the court, helps you on the court."
Mack continued, "I love the spot I'm in now. I feel I could've been picked higher, but I'm always going to have a chip on my shoulders."