here is no mystery as to what Monty Mack has meant to the UMass men's basketball program. During his time in Amherst, the 6-3 senior guard has become one of the most prolific shooters and scorers in UMass and Atlantic 10 Conference history despite being the primary focus of all opposing defenses. He has thrived on the pressure of making the big shot, and the numbers do not lie.
He ranks first on the UMass all-time charts in both three-point field goals made and attempted, and second in points scored, field goals made, field goals attempted, free throw percentage, steals and minutes played. He is also fourth in games started, and eighth in three-point percentage.
"I believe I've accomplished a lot of things here," said Mack humbly. "But I didn't come to college thinking I was going to be this successful."
Mack at a 1996-97 pre-season practice.
"I think [sitting out] was the best thing for me because I got used to what college-type work was like," Mack said. "And with basketball, just getting a chance to practice with the team and against Carmelo [Travieso] and Edgar [Padilla] every day that year made me a better player and helped me perform the way I did."
His high school playing days probably didn't hurt his development as a player either, seeing as he was a member of an AAU team, the Boston Area Basketball Club (BABC), that included several Division I basketball players. Current Minutemen Jonathan DePina (also a teammate of Mack's at South Boston High) and Shannon Crooks, as well as Villanova center Michael Bradley, University of Maryland reserve center Mike Mardesich and former Providence guard Jamal Camah were all members of that team. The squad was coached by Leo Papile, who is now employed as a scout for the Boston Celtics.
"I think we definitely have a chemistry out there," Mack said of Crooks and DePina. "Those guys always have a feel for where I am on the court, and they know what types of things I like to do when I come off of screens."
After such a successful high school career, however, there is no denying that having to sit behind the UMass bench instead of on it game after game during his freshman year took a toll on Mack.
"The toughest part for me was sitting out here at the home games," Mack said. "I wanted to be out there so bad that I used to be in tears after the games sometimes."
But anyone who may have forgotten that Mack had been rated among the nation's top 75 high school seniors would be quickly reminded of the shooting guard's prowess the next year. In his collegiate debut against Fresno State, Mack knocked down three treys and scored 15 points while playing in all but three minutes of the game.
The ball was rolling.
Mack wound up starting all 32 games for the Minutemen in his rookie campaign, and averaged 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game en route to a spot on the A-10's All Rookie team. He scored in double figures in 26 of UMass' 32 games, and ranked second on the team in scoring, minutes (35.1 mpg) and assists.
"Everything came to me as a surprise [as a freshman]," Mack said. "I came here and expected to be a back-up guard, but once I stepped on the court and played the way I did, I knew I had to take advantage of the situation."
In the two-plus seasons since his freshman year, Mack has certainly taken full advantage of his situation. The UMass offense has essentially been centered around his ability to score, and the results have placed him atop almost every offensive category in the UMass record books.
Mack will finish his UMass career in second place all-time in scoring.
But Mack is not just a basketball player. He is a student and person whose time at UMass has certainly had its challenges, but also meant a great deal to him.
"I think UMass has matured me a lot as a person," Mack said. "The coaching staff here does a great job of getting their players ready for life, and not just basketball. They want you to get your education first -- that's what counts here."
Mack went on to offer some advice to younger UMass fans who have dreams of one day playing at the Mullins Center.
"You need to take care of the things you need to in middle school and high school," Mack said. "So when you get to college you won't have to sit out like I did, and go through some of the things I had to."
One such "thing" that had nothing to do with basketball or school, but everything to do with life, occurred last year. Something that may be looked upon by most as a certain struggle turned out to be one of the biggest blessing's in Mack's life -- his first son, Monty, was born. Though unexpected and unplanned for, Mack relishes his role as a father.
"My son is my pride and joy," Mack said with a smile. "He's my heart."
And heart is a big part of what has gotten Monty Mack to where he is today, both on and off the basketball floor.