John Clay: Mack doing Kentucky proud in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — When the process began, Shelvin Mack had never even heard of Butler.

Not until the former Bryan Station Defender received his first basketball recruiting letter. Mack opened it, looked it over, then got on his computer to do a little investigative work.

"I had to Google it to figure out where it was," Mack said.

When he found that the school was in Indianapolis, that it owned an excellent academic reputation and that he could play there immediately, Mack heard the so-called experts claim there was one place you would not find a mid-major like Butler.

The Final Four.


"I consider Butler to be an elite program," said Mack on Thursday, talking to the media at Lucas Oil Stadium as Butler prepared for Saturday's national semifinal game against Michigan State. "We've been in the Top 25 for 70 straight weeks."

Mack is a fact behind the stat. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder has started all 36 games this season, averaging 14.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists. He's not a point guard, or a shooting guard, but a tough-minded combo guard, a Chauncey Billups type, who can score and defend.

"Beyond that, in the recruiting process, everyone loved Shelvin," Butler Coach Brad Stevens told the media on Thursday. "And he's had that same contagious impact on our team. We've had a lot of guys who have been like that. We've had very few guys who have come in as ready to be an impact player as Shelvin."

Living in Lexington, Mack grew up a Kentucky fan, but wasn't recruited by Tubby Smith. UK's next coach, Billy Gillispie, took a brief look and, along with Louisville, offered a scholarship late.

"But Butler had been on me all along," Mack said.

He's returned the favor. Mack played nearly 31 minutes a game as a freshman last season, "which is kind of unheard of," he said. He then not only made the USA Basketball 19-and-under team last summer — along with Butler teammate Gordon Hayward and UK's Darius Miller — but was named the captain of that team.

This year, he's improved his field-goal percentage from 39.1 to 45.5. His three-point percentage has gone from 32.6 to 38.6. His points have increased by 2.3 per game. His defense remains outstanding.

"He's an unbelievable player," Stevens said. "He can create for himself, he can create for others. He can defend."

The Bulldogs know how to defend. They've held each of their four NCAA opponents below 60 points. After Butler bounced top seed Syracuse in the West Region semifinals, Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said Butler owned the best pair of defensive guards he had seen in 10 years.

"Every day we come in with a mind-set to defend," said Mack.

Now Butler comes to the Final Four as the home team. Its home floor, historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, is but 5 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium. There was a Butler pep rally held in downtown Indy on Tuesday.

Mack is one of just four players on the Butler roster who hails from outside of Indiana. "I tell them that Kentucky high school basketball is better than Indiana's," he joked Thursday.

He admits to never having seen the movie Hoosiers, much to the consternation of his teammates and his Facebook followers. He said he probably will when the tournament is over, because "I have an obligation to do it attending Butler University."

He has other obligations, first. The Bulldogs are still going to class this week. His first Final Four assignment is schoolwork. Mack said he has a four-to-six page paper comparing newspapers and newscasts that is due Friday.

"Once I get that done, I'll be free for the rest of the week," said Mack, who is a media arts major.

His Bryan Station coaching staff will be in attendance Saturday, along with his mom, his aunt and his cousin. But the former Defender isn't buying this Cinderella hype.

"Each team has a different story," Mack said. "Each team can write their own ending to the book. I think we're doing a great job writing the ending to this book."