Mack’s old-school game just right for Eagles

by Chris Hunt

SouthLake Christian girls basketball player Brianne Mack is averaging more than 18 points per game this season.

These days, it’s hard for SouthLake Christian girls basketball player Brianne Mack not to get excited about her future.

Six games into the 2010-11 season, the Eagles’ center has emerged as the team’s top threat, scoring 18.2 points per game and sparking SouthLake to six impressive victories. With Mack patrolling the paint, the promising Eagles are now eyeing a Metrolina Athletic Conference championship. On a personal level, Mack has a box full of college recruiting letters that predict she’ll play the sport she’s grown to love for a long time.

But basketball wasn’t always so high on Mack’s priority list. At one point in her life, her heart wasn’t in the sport. Looking back, Mack admits she started playing basketball for all the wrong reasons.

As a seventh-grader, Mack was much taller than her peers, so basketball was the logical choice. But at the time, basketball felt more like an obligation instead of an enjoyable pastime, a fact that was made painfully obvious by the her awkward performance on the court.

After one dreadful game, Mack had a long talk with her mother, Gloria. The two came to the conclusion that if ­Brianne Mack was going to continue to play basketball, she would have to find a way to get better at the game.

“Basketball was hard for her at first,” said Gloria Mack. “She didn’t like the way she played. I told her she had to make a decision on how to get better at basketball. I told her, ‘I can’t play for you.’”

There were no short cuts, but Mack found a way to get better. It took her years of hard work to become a good basketball player, but now college basketball coaches swoon after the 6-foot-3 center with an endless wingspan. Not only is Mack a fearless shot blocker and rebounder, few defenders can reach her towering release point. With a flare for old school fundamentals, Mack keeps the ball high over her head, and can release a variety of hook shots with either hand.

With success on the court came a hunger for more. Mack is not just content to excel in high school; she’s doing everything she can to extend her basketball career into college.

“I started developing my skills and I started getting good at basketball, which improved my confidence,” said Mack. “I made varsity as a freshman, and now I don’t want basketball to end.”

In the past six months, she’s taken unofficial visits to Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, Furman, Richmond and Appalachian State to pursue a college scholarship. She said September 1 – the day the NCAA allows coaches to email and take calls from high school junior such as Mack – was a busy day.

But saying you want to play college basketball and preparing to play college basketball are two different things. So, this summer, along with SouthLake coach Terry Batts, who doubles as her AAU summer basketball coach, Mack took 500 shots a day. She credits the Mikan drill – alternating hooks shots from either side of the basket – for improving her touch around the basket and capturing college recruiters’ attention.

“Coach Batts stresses repetition in our workouts until it becomes second nature,” said Mack. “I love basketball and I know I have to work harder to get to the next level. I see girls that want things to be handed to them, but the only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

Mack’s tireless work ethic has not only improved her offensive game, she’s shed more than 35 pounds since her freshman season. Now, the tall, ­once-overweight girl who once talked about giving up basketball, is racing past opposing centers during a SouthLake fast break. Mack’s goal this season is to beat defenders down the floor 10 times a game – a statistic of which Batts’ coaching staff keeps track. After eight games, Batts said Mack is on pace to reach her goal.

Batts also marvels at Mack’s efficiency playing the game. She isn’t one to look for style points. While most high schoolers with college basketball dreams emulate highlight videos of older players gliding toward the hoop, Mack works tirelessly on her fundamentals. The Eagles’ towering center practices the lost art of playing with her back to the basket.

“There are very few high school post players who play with their back to the basket,” said Batts. “I had two college coaches come up to me after a game raving about how she caught the ball 20 times and never put the ball on the floor, which is very usual for a high school player.”

But Mack’s game is more than just scoring near the basket. It’s also about setting up her teammates. Mack isn’t above sacrificing her scoring average to get a team victory. When defenses collapse on her, she doesn’t mind feeding SouthLake’s outside shooters for easy opportunities.

This season, the only game Mack failed to score in double figures was a 61-36 victory over Gaston Day. That game, however, spoke volumes about her unselfishness. Facing triple teams, Mack served as a decoy on that night. SouthLake’s sharpshooter, Independence transfer Kourtney Hailey, was the biggest benefactor, dropping 21 points in the game.

Collapsing defenses on Mack also helped Hailey score 30 points in a win over Hickory Grove and set up guards Sarah Lipinski and Gisselle Verville with season highs of 14 and 16 points in wins against High Point Christian and Caldwell Academy, respectively.

“Gaston Day put three players on ­Brianne so I told her to go stand in the corner and their players followed her,” said Batts. “I told her tonight wasn’t going to be her night and that she just had to take the defenders away from the basket. To be where she’s at has a lot to do with her size, but she’s still very humble.”

Facing triple teams every night might not be all that exciting to the Eagles’ center, but a box full of college recruiting letters, happy teammates and a winning record have changed Mack’s perspective about basketball for the better.

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