In freshman Mack, Tigers have a go-to shooter
Gators' loss turns out to be Calipari's gain
By Dan Wolken
October 16, 2006
University of Memphis freshman Doneal Mack stood in the 3-point corner, firing off one jumper after another Sunday during a drill at the Finch Center. He made eight in a row. Then he missed one. Then he made another five straight. Then he missed two. And on it went like this for three minutes, by the end of which Mack had made 52 shots.
And just like that, it was obvious why Mack's surprise arrival in August was one of the most pleasant developments of coach John Calipari's summer. On a Tigers team that doesn't have a proven three-point sharpshooter, Mack is a logical choice to be the outside threat that, as Calipari put it, "can just go make 12 in a row." "That's probably one of the reasons he wanted me here," Mack said. "Somebody to hit open jumpers."
His job sounds simple.
Mack's path to Memphis, however, wasn't simple at all.
A top-50 recruit coming out of Statesville (N.C.) Christian, the 6-5 Mack initially signed with national champion Florida.
But then things got murky.
In July, Florida officials released a statement saying that Mack "did not meet enrollment requirements."
That wasn't entirely true. The Daytona Beach News Journal reported that Mack received a good qualifying score on his ACT test but was asked to take it again. When he scored lower -- but still well above NCAA requirements -- he was released from his scholarship. There were whispers around college basketball that Florida simply used the academic issue to open a scholarship and fill other needs.
Said Mack: "I was qualified for any other school, but I had to cancel out some scores and if I did that, I couldn't get through admissions (at Florida). There were no hard feelings."
So when Mack re-opened his recruitment, Kentucky called. Illinois called. And then Calipari called.
"He was just way different from any other coach I talked to," Mack said. "I was on the phone with him for like two hours. I came down to visit, I liked it and started summer school."
Despite Memphis already possessing a group of talented shooting guards, including Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts and fellow freshman Tre'Von Willis, Mack's late addition -- along with the reinstatement of Jeremy Hunt -- in some ways transformed the roster.
Why? Because, as Calipari said, "We don't have any bad shooters ... but at some point, we've got to have a guy that can make five straight."
Asked who he thought was the best shooter on the team, Douglas-Roberts responded: "In my opinion, Jeremy or Doneal."
Mack also has some other unique attributes: When he shoots, Mack seemingly uses every bit of his 41-inch vertical leap, ensuring he can get off a shot whenever he needs to.
He's also the kind of penetrating guard that makes Calipari's offense go. When he drives, however, Mack's natural tendency is to go left because he's left-handed. In high school, Mack was so much better than his competition most nights that he never needed to do anything else.
At Memphis, Calipari is imploring him to start going to his right most of the time. And once Mack gets the hang of it, he'll be twice as dangerous.
"It's something I have to get used to," Mack said. "I can dribble with my right but I've just got to work on finishing with my right. It's just way different from high school when you've got 6-11 and 6-10 guys in there."