Lexington native Shelvin Mack back on the big stage



Shelvin Mack didn’t regret his decision to go to mid-major Butler — a school with “no football team,” he said, until later realizing they do in fact have a Division-II football team — instead of the local basketball powerhouse school.

UK already had a lot of guards on the roster, and Butler had been recruiting him since the summer prior to his senior year of high school. So Mack, a combo guard, went to a place with a better opportunity to play.

His sophomore year, he averaged 14.1 points for the Butler team that lost to Duke in the national final.

He took a big step forward after playing on a select team that helped Team USA prepare over the summer. He went up against Derrick Rose, fighting to hold his own on the court. Then, Rose would rotate out, and Russell Westbrook or Rajon Rondo would rotate in, and Mack would be fighting to hold his own all over again.

“You have no choice to get better,” Mack said.

The summer lessons, playing against the best in the world, gave him confidence coming back to the college game.

“I’ve never seen a guard have workouts like he had in the pre-season,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “So you knew it was going to be another step forward.”

It was; Mack averaged 32 minutes and 16.1 points per game for Butler, although he struggled with his shot during the season. He had to maintain his confidence, as both he and Butler struggled to live up to the lofty expectations a runner-up finish a year ago had set. But the coaching staff and his teammates were there, urging him to keep shooting.

“Coach Stevens kept telling me the law of averages would have to kick in,” Mack said.

It kicked in full-force in the NCAA Tournament. Mack led the team in scoring in four of their first five games — 15 against Old Dominion, 30 against No. 1 Pittsburgh, 27 in the Elite Eight against Florida, and 24 in the Final Four against VCU.

“They’re starting to fall now,” Mack said. “And it’s a great feeling.”

Now, he’s paired up opposite Kemba Walker, the best player in college basketball and a player who was also on the select team in the summer. The two are friends; they texted each other congratulations as their teams won, and won, and won, through the NCAA Tournament.

“I think he knows how good Kemba is,” said Butler’s Ronald Nored, “and I don’t think he’s going to back down from a challenge.”

Mack will now have a decision to make regarding the NBA. He said he’s not focusing on it, but couldn’t deny how much it would mean for the program to have early entrants in consecutive years (Gordan Hayward was a lottery pick last year).

“Shelvin and I will sit down sometime next week and we’ll cover (everything),” said Stevens. “I will present him with the facts. He’ll know I’ll support him either way.”