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Rutgers Basketball: The Legacy of Myles Mack

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Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago Myles Mack graduated from Rutgers, completing a journey that saw many ups and downs throughout his career.  It's an appropriate time to look back and determine what his legacy is in Rutgers basketball history.

Mack had a successful high school career at traditional state prep power Paterson Catholic through his junior year.  When the school closed its doors before his senior season, Mack landed at national power St. Anthony's where he played for legendary coach Bob Hurley.  He led the Friars to a 31-0 record, a state championship and a national ranking of #1.

Myles had committed to new Rutgers coach Mike Rice in the fall of 2010 heading into his senior season.  He was the centerpiece of the most heralded recruiting class in decades, ranked #16 in the country by ESPN. He joined Jerome Seagears and Eli Carter in the backcourt for what many thought and hoped would be the nucleus to lead Rutgers back to the NCAA Tournament.  Landing Mack helped ease the recent disappointment of another former St. Anthony's star that failed to live up to expectations, Mike Rosario.

We now know that recruiting class failed to live up to expectations in a major way as four of the seven members left early, including Seagears and Carter. Coach Rice embarrassed himself, the program and the university with the scandal involving throwing basketballs at players' heads.  Another failed coaching regime resulted and mass transfers ensued, unfortunately a far too familiar pattern for devoted fans of the program.  As soon as the scandal hit and players fled I remember thinking all I cared about was that Mack stayed.  Of course, I wanted Kadeem Jack and others to stay, but I felt like if Mack left that would be too much to take.  He was the heart and soul of the team, a player all Rutgers fans loved and respected.  If his loyalty faltered and he fled during the program's darkest hour, he wouldn't have turned out to be who I thought and hoped he was.  Mack chose Rutgers a second time and thus became the signature player of the beginning of the Eddie Jordan era as coach of Rutgers.

To properly examine what Mack's legacy is, career numbers and all-time ranks are of course an important factor.  Myles finished his career ranked in the Top 10 all-time in the following statistical categories at Rutgers:

  • 7th all-time in scoring with 1658 points (26 points ahead of 8th place holder Eddie Jordan)
  • 4th all-time in assists with 425 (Eddie Jordan holds the record of 585)
  • 2nd all-time in steals with 211 (Eddie Jordan holds the record of 220)
  • 3rd all-time in Free Throw Percentage at 85.8% (Bob Lloyd holds the record of 89.8%)
  • 10th all-time in 3-Point Field Goal Percentage at 36.9% (Donnell Lumpkin holds the record of 41.8%)

Of these top 10 ranks, it includes three of the five traditional basketball categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks) and two of three shooting percentages.  The only major categories that Mack did not finish in the top 10 all-time were rebounds, blocks and career field goal percentage.  It is very unlikely for a prolific 3-point shooter to finish over 50% from the field, but more likely than a 5'10" guard to finish in the top ranks in rebounding and blocks.  In addition, Mack also finished 12th all-time in career field goals made at 541 (six ahead of 13th place holder John Battle, two-time all-american, RU hall of famer and 10 year NBA veteran); 4th in career 3-point field goals made at 239 (three behind 3rd place holder Geoff Billet); 2nd in career 3-point field goal attempts with 648 (Ricky Shields is the all-time leader in 3-point field goals and attempts); and 7th all-time in free throws made while only 20th all-time in free throws attempted.

These all-time ranks in the Rutgers record books cement Mack's legacy in that he lived up to expectations, coming in as a 4-star recruit.  When is the last time a highly ranked and nationally recruited HS player from New Jersey came to Rutgers and actually lived up to expectations?  Mike Rosario disappointed and left after two seasons.  Todd Billet left us for Virginia after two seasons, and he was a legacy.  Dahntay Jones bolted to Duke after two seasons as well.  After the Rice scandal, Mack was to expected to leave and asked by many who knew him to do so.  From this NY Times article:

"I must’ve had 50 or 60 people," Mack said of those who tried to persuade him to transfer. "People were trying to get into my ear about that I had to. But I’m a strong person. If I say that I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it, and I stayed."

He stayed.  And that's where Mack proves his contribution and legacy at Rutgers is much more than just the numbers and all-time ranks.

From this article written before Senior Night in March:

Those who will be absent are the people who disagreed with Mack’s decision to stay at Rutgers two years ago after the Mike Rice scandal. At the time, Mack was besieged with people telling him he needed to leave the then-troubled program for his own good.

Yet to Mack, that wasn’t an option.

"I’m a strong person," Mack said before practice Monday, "and if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. And I stayed. I lost friends because I stayed. I lost a lot of family members because I stayed, but I’m just worried about my immediate family and myself. They were happy that I wanted to stay, so I was happy that I was here.

"I started off here and this is where I wanted to finish," Mack added. "I love the school. I love the basketball program. I don’t regret" staying.

"Loyalty to your school, that means a lot," said coach Eddie Jordan, himself a former Scarlet Knights star.

While the last two years produced consecutive losing seasons and declining win totals, he played like a warrior and was a class act.  Imagine what would have been had Mack left.  It's tragic his career ended on a 15 game losing streak.  Without him it probably would have been more than 20 and the worst season in the 108 year history of Rutgers basketball. There were bad moments, like when a lowlight of Mack airballing a layup went viral in February and our own Dave White called out the unjust ridicule. Worn down from constant double teams and a team high average of playing 35 minutes per game, Mack struggled at times down the stretch.  You could see that the burden and weight of carrying this team for four years had worn him down. As I wrote last week, it looked like he was playing with the RAC on his shoulders.

The last heroic moment of his career was at home against No. 4 Wisconsin in January, leading Rutgers to its biggest upset in program history.  With the game on the line and RU up two points with 35 seconds to play, Mack broke down the double team and drove to the rim making the layup before falling to the floor, highlights here.  He proved who he was on that play, during that game, during this season and the three seasons before it.   Myles Mack came to Rutgers a winner.  He left a loyal son, an all-time great and, most importantly, a man.