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Monday, January 29, 2007

Doneal Mack's Confidence Is Rising

Mack's confidence is rising

By Jim Masilak
January 26, 2007

When Doneal Mack was given the starting nod in place of the injured Chris Douglas-Roberts last Saturday at East Carolina, the University of Memphis' freshman guard was determined not to disappoint.

Sure, he hoped to impress Tigers coach John Calipari, who just a month earlier had left him languishing on the bench for 40 minutes at Arizona.

But Mack also knew his mother, Lorna Rivers, would be staying up into the wee hours in Germany to watch via the Internet as her son made his first start for the Tigers.
When his parents separated a few years back, Mack continued to live in Charlotte, N.C., with his father, Greg, a former star at the College of Charleston, while Lorna married a career Air Force man and moved abroad, first to Japan and more recently to Germany.

"She hasn't (lived) in the States since I was in the eighth grade," Doneal said before practice Thursday at the Finch Center. "She hasn't seen me play (in person) in three or four years. It's kind of tough, but we still keep in touch."

Despite the distance between them, the bond between mother and son is as strong as ever.

Six months ago, Doneal had Lorna's name tattooed on the right side of his neck, "where everyone could see it." She already had his name etched in ink on her own body, and Doneal breathed a sigh of relief when she approved of his gesture.

"She likes it," he said. "She thought it was good."

Lorna was no doubt even more pleased when her son scored 15 points in 16 minutes in that first start against the Pirates. She stayed up until about 2 a.m. local time watching the 61-44 victory over ECU on

Mack followed that effort with seven points and three rebounds in Wednesday's 72-59 victory over Tulsa while once more spelling Douglas-Roberts, who remained sidelined with a mild high right ankle sprain.

"It's definitely been a confidence-builder," Mack said of his brief run in the starting five. Douglas-Roberts practiced Thursday and expects to play Saturday against Southern Miss. "It's good to feel that Cal has enough confidence in me to take (Douglas-Roberts') spot temporarily.

"I ain't gonna lie. At one point my confidence was real low. I wasn't playing to my expectations or his. It got to the point where I was thinking, dang, I'm not doing real good this year. How's it gonna be my sophomore year, my junior year?"

Things reached a low point on Dec. 20, when Mack sat for the entirety of the Tigers' 79-71 loss to Arizona in Tucson -- the only game this season in which he hasn't played.

At the time, Calipari said he wasn't happy with the way Mack had performed in the pregame shootaround, but the coach said Thursday that there was more to it than that.

"As a freshman, you're gonna be inconsistent. ... But he wasn't coming up with any (loose) balls, he wasn't defending. If you're not defending, I can't play you," Calipari said. "Now he understands. He's getting here early ... and he's playing at another level defensively."

Whereas earlier in the year the 6-5, 170-pound Mack was content to settle for perimeter jumpers, he's now driving more often and showing off his exceptional athleticism.

Mack's 41-inch vertical leap is one of the attributes which led the Tigers to pounce last summer when the former Statesville (N.C.) Christian standout was denied admission to Florida.

His recent run in the starting lineup, Calipari said, should prove a valuable experience for a player likely to fill Jeremy Hunt's sixth-man role next season.

"He's done a real good job," sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said. "He's out there playing real hard and doing what Coach asks him to do. He's got the starting spot right now and he's trying to take advantage of it."

Mack, who is averaging 7.1 points through 18 games for the No. 11-ranked Tigers (16-3, 6-0 in Conference USA), said his success as a starter might not have been possible without his benching in Tucson.

"The Arizona game motivated me to go hard in practice and in games. That really helped me," he said. "What it put in my head was, I've got to do what (Calipari) wants. And now I realize I've still got that killer instinct inside me."

-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311


Next for No. 11 Tigers

Opponent: Southern Miss

When, where: Saturday, noon, at FedExForum

TV: Comcast Sports Southeast (Ch. 6 on cable, not available on satellite)

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