NEW ORLEANS, LA — Doneal Mack had suspected there was something wrong for a few weeks, but when his worst fears were confirmed by the admissions department at the University of Florida, he admits his heart sunk all the way past his stomach. He was denied admission at Florida and he had no plan to go anywhere else.
“Summer school for Florida was starting in like three days and I was getting packed,” Mack recalled after Memphis handled North Texas, 73-58, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. “My heart dropped. I thought what am I going to do?”
Mack was the crown jewel of Florida’s recruiting class, an athletic 6-5 wing guard out of Statesville (NC) Christian that could soar with the eagles when he left the floor on the fast break. He was the perfect fit for Coach Billy Donovan’s system at Florida and he was thought to be the heir apparent to Corey Brewer’s spot on the wing with his ability to slash to the basket and hit the open three-point shot.
He had grades. Hard work at Statesville Christian had improved his GPA but there was a problem with his test score. Florida’s admissions department was questioning his ACT score. He had a qualifying score but there was talk that the score had risen too sharply from one test to the next.
He talked almost daily with Donovan and his staff, whom he praises as very supportive, and he says the Florida admissions people made him believe that he would be allowed in school.
“They were discussing some issues, but they kind of made me feel like I was going to be all right,” Mack said. “I was getting the feeling that it was going to be all right and then they called me and I got the bad news.”
His test score had been cleared by the NCAA but it wasn’t good enough for Florida.
“It wasn’t within the range they [University of Florida] wanted,” he said. “I was still qualified for any other school.”
There was immediate talk that he would go to prep school or possibly to junior college. There was even talk of hiring a lawyer to challenge Florida’s admissions department but after talking things over with his father, the decision was made to open up the recruiting process again.
The only problem with opening recruiting was the timing. Most top schools had already signed their classes and there weren’t a lot of scholarships available.
“The teams were already getting ready for next season,” he said.
Memphis had an opening, though, and the more he talked to Coach John Calipari, the more he felt this would be a good fit. Calipari prefers an up and down style that produces high-scoring games played at a very fast tempo. It’s the kind of pace that opens things up for a creative player in the open court that can turn a fast break into a highlight reel dunk.
He chose Memphis, enrolled in school and found a home. He’s happy to be playing for the 31-3 Tigers who are a number two seed in the South Region. He comes off the bench for the Tigers and gives them quality minutes as the shooting guard or small forward positions. Against North Texas he scored eight points and grabbed a couple of rebounds.
“It worked out good,” said Mack. “I would have enjoyed going to Florida but I love it in Memphis. It was a good choice for me. Memphis is a good school and Florida is a great school, too.”
At Memphis he’s probably gotten more playing time than he would have seen at Florida this year. The Gators returned all five starters plus their top two reserves from last year’s NCAA championship team so he would have probably had a lesser role off the bench than he has at Memphis.
“It definitely worked out better,” he said. “Florida returned five seniors and they just came off a championship. Billy Donovan was going to go with the experienced player. For me to come to Memphis and get my feet wet a little bit was good for me. I wouldn’t have minded coming in behind them [at Florida]; I still would have played my role but it was a better situation at Memphis.”
He has maintained his friendship with Florida freshmen Jonathon Mitchell and Maurice Speights. They stay in touch via cell phones and they have had a chance to visit here in New Orleans since the Midwest Region Gators are here for rounds one and two of the tournament.
“We’re all still friends,” he said. “They don’t have nothing against me and I don’t have nothing against them. We’re all fighting for the same thing. We’re fighting for a championship. I played AAU ball with Jon Mitchell. We’re all friends. I stay in touch with them.”
He’s also maintained the friendship with Donovan.
“I love Billy Donovan to death,” said Mack. “He still writes to my father and everything and so does Larry Shyatt (Florida assistant).”