ST. PETERSBURG — Darrien Mack recognizes the legacy he’s leaving at Eckerd College. And in his own family, too.
Four years removed from a standout career at Rutherford, Mack has emerged as the go-to player at Eckerd, an NCAA Division II program competing in the Sunshine State Conference. A 22-year-old senior, Mack was named the Division II Bulletin national player of the month in January after averaging 20 points and eight rebounds a game during the month.
Mack is fourth in the SSC in scoring averaging 17.5 points per game and leads the conference in rebounding with 7.5 per game. He’s also third in steals (2.2) and sixth in field goal percentage (.536).
Those numbers aren’t too shabby for a guy who was inserted into the starting lineup just this season.
“Every since last year, Coach (Tom Ryan) has expected a lot from me,” Mack said. “The team has me in a reserve role, but it’s been an easy transition coming off the bench to starting. Nothing really has changed. Maybe a few more points, a few more rebounds.”
What has changed is Mack’s contribution to the team as a senior leader.
“I’ve had to become a better vocal leader, as well as an action leader,” Mack said. “I’ve had to open my mouth a little more off the court and be demanding of the team that we tighten up our discipline. That’s one of the things that Coach really preaches.
“Last year I was a junior and I was able to hide behind some of the other seniors. Now I’m a senior, and it’s on me and the other two seniors to speak up. I have to practice what I preach. I can’t tell my teammates to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.”
Mack is a 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward who embraces the “tweener” label he’s been given. Mack is a little undersized for the power forward position, but he’s not a player who heaves a half-dozen shots from beyond the arc in every game, either. He has skills that fit both forward positions, though, and it gives him opportunities to create mismatches on the offensive end of the floor.
“I get to play inside and out, and I love it,” Mack said. “I absolutely love it. When I have bigger guys guarding me, I can take ’em outside and get to work. When they collapse on me, I can kick it out and I trust my teammates to knock down the trifecta. If I get a guard guarding me, I post him up.
“Looking at my game all-around, I feel like I’m a tweener. I definitely am. I don’t have the best jump shot. I don’t have the best passing skills. I don’t have the best low-post moves. But I do each of them well. I think that’s been the cause of my success. The team put me in position to score the ball, and they put me in position to draw double teams. It’s lovely. I love my situation right now.”
Mack entered Saturday’s game against Florida Tech with 979 points in his career, and he is set to become the 16thplayer in program history to surpass the 1,000-point mark.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I look forward to gaining it. It’s not my main goal, though. My main goal is to win. I would sacrifice the 1,000-point club for a national championship any day. Unfortunately, the 1,000-point club is something only Darrien Mack can live with. A championship? You can share that with the whole team, the community and everybody else.”
The Tritons were 13-5 entering the weekend with an overtime loss to Rollins their only defeat in their last six games.
Mack is majoring in business management and has some sizable life decisions looming in his future. He likely will have a chance to continue his basketball career after he graduates, and he is weighing whether that is preferable over using his college degree to build his future.
“I can’t say for sure right now,” he said. “Honestly, my main focus has been on this season, this year, and having a successful season. After that I plan on sitting down with my coaches, the (sports information director), my parents and close family and weigh out my options and see if basketball is the best option. If entering the workforce is a better option, I can always play in men’s leagues and rec leagues.”
At least Mack can rule out a pursuit of a master’s degree — for the time being.
“I think I deserve a little break,” he said.
Mack noted that his family has supported him throughout his career and is anxious for him to graduate.
“Not many people in my family have graduated from college, and it’s an honor to be one of those folks who have,” he said. “To walk around with a degree is a lovely thing. Nowadays you can barely get a job without a degree. … It’s a wonderful thing when someone in the family succeeds, and I have the opportunity to do that.
“A lot of my family will be coming out to graduation. They’re putting pressure on me to finish up and have a great year. I’m enjoying it just as much as I can.”