BOZICH | The coach who signed new Louisville coach Chris Mack still remembers him
Before Chris Mack became a rising star in the coaching profession, he was a player at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. What does Jim Crew remember about the guy he recruited to Evansville?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Before athletic director Vince Tyra decided Chris Mack was the guy he wanted to run the University of Louisville basketball program, Jim Crews decided that Chris Mack was one of the players that he wanted to run the University of Evansville basketball team.
On the day Mack was announced as the guy who will follow Rick Pitino as the U of L coach, Crews did not say he knew Mack was a precocious leader who would eventually become the head coach at one of the Top 10 programs in college basketball.
But Crews was not surprised that coaching became Mack’s passion — and that Mack has succeeded following his passion.
“As a player, he was a guy who saw things on the basketball court,” Crews said. “He knew the right passes to make and the ones not to make, and sometimes that is more important.
“I’ve always believed those were the guys who made the best coaches, guys who knew where the basketball needed to be because they have a better understanding of everything that’s happening on the court.
“He was that type of player, a guy who understood things, who knew there was more to basketball than just shooting and scoring.”
Crews said this about Mack even though Mack did not finish his college career playing for the Purple Aces.
Crews and his staff recruited Mack from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati in 1988. Crews, currently retired and living in Indianapolis, does not remember why Evansville pursued and signed Mack, who played guard and forward at 6 feet 5.
Mack played in 63 games during two seasons at Evansville, starting 44, averaging 7.2 points per as a freshman and then 10.1 as a sophomore.
Evansville went 25-6 in 1989, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to national runner-up Seton Hall. The Purple Aces slipped to 16-15 in 1990, failing to advance to the post-season.
Mack transferred home to Xavier, which was coached by Pete Gillen.
“Probably because he was sick of me,” Crews said, with a laugh. “I really don’t remember.”
Mack never averaged double figures at Xavier. He suffered a knee injury after sitting out a transfer season.
"In my first exhibition game, I blew out my left knee eight seconds into the game," Mack said. After a length rehab, Mack later tore the ACL in his right knee.
During the 1992-93 season, Mack averaged only a single point in 21 games as a senior for a Xavier team that finished 24-6.
"Adversity is going to hit," Mack said. "It's going to hit and it's going to hit you hard." Mack credits his friend, the late Xavier coach Skip Prosser, with guiding him through the surgeries by encouraging him to read a book about tough people lasting longer than tough times.
By the end of the year Mack was a junior varsity coach at an all-girls high school in Cincinnati, the beginning of your typical coaching odyssey that led Mack to another high school job, back to Xavier as the director of basketball operations, ahead to Wake Forest and then back to his alma mater, where Mack has worked as either the top assistant or head coach since 2004.
Crews was not finished with Mack. A member of Indiana’s unbeaten 1976 NCAA championship team, Crews coached at Army and Saint Louis University after leaving Evansville. These days he watches college basketball as a fan and works with elementary school players.
His 2013 team at Saint Louis competed against Xavier in the Atlantic 10 conference. Crews also served as the top assistant to Rick Majerus at Saint Louis against Xavier in the A10. Xavier left the A10 for the Big East for the 2013-14 season.
“When you watch his teams play, it’s obvious they have a very solid system where they really compete and play hard,” Crews said. “He’s done a great job.”
Now Chris Mack is bringing that system to the University of Louisville.
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