A priority for any program is to recruit strongly within its own state. And despite its national reach, Kentucky is no different. Accordingly, three of the five members of the 2008 all-state first team eventually joined the Wildcats, even with the transition from
That season's Mr. Basketball,
Indeed, if you're looking for next season's
Mack became a known commodity in the basketball world last summer when the United States U-19 team won gold at the World Championships, America's first title in that age group since 1991. Not only did Mack surprise many by making the final roster, he ultimately was named a team captain. The general public became aware of Mack when his quiet competence fueled the Bulldogs during their epic run to the NCAA final, where they lost to Duke in a riveting title game.
Now, without Hayward, who left school two years early for the NBA and could be a lottery pick next month, the job as team headliner is open. And even if a program like Butler doesn't like to anoint any one person to that title, coach
"I think, especially in league play [this past season], they really keyed on him already, so he's lived that a little bit," Stevens said. "I think he does have the experience to handle that."
In just two seasons, Mack's already played in 70 games and logged over 2,100 minutes, with career averages of around 13 points, four assists and more than three rebounds a game. All the while, Mack has defended like a demon in a team concept and helped Butler's offense keep things at its favored turtle-like tempo.
This is not to say that Kentucky should lament having had
And maybe, some of those minutes would have come at the expense of close friend
The 'Cats' Elite Eight loss to West Virginia, though, has provided Mack with the platform for some playful -- and thoroughly unexpected -- barbs.
"I joke with [Miller] a lot, telling him that two years in a row I finished ahead of him," Mack said. "He gets jealous of that."
Can Butler make it three in a row in that category? A lot will depend on the defensive end, where Butler made its mark last season. The Bulldogs need to overcome the departures of Hayward and senior
"I wouldn't say that," he said. "I'll [just] be more of a focal point for opposing coaches to deal with." Then, catching himself saying something with the slightest tinge of bravado, he quickly added, "Well, not deal with. To focus on."
Mack's humbleness aside, it's fairly certain the Horizon League -- and the nation -- will have to deal with him this season. And as Butler tries to repeat the glory of its 2009-10 campaign, UK fans will have to continue to deal with the rise of a native son who is leading a mid-major to Kentucky-esque heights.