MHERST — When Monty Mack plays basketball for the University of Massachusetts, he says he plays for himself and for his teammates — and for Bruiser Flint.
"It bothers me when I read in the paper, or hear people criticizing him (Flint)," said Mack, who faces Dayton tomorrow night at the Mullins Center, then makes the only Springfield Civic Center appearance of his career Saturday night against Duquesne.
"We're playing better lately, and I hope this proves to people he's a good coach," Mack said. "He is."
UMass is playing better, with a 2-1 Atlantic 10 Conference record that somewhat offsets a 4-10 overall mark. And as his career begins to wind down, there is no doubt that by any fair measure, Mack is one of the best players ever to wear a UMass uniform.
He's on pace to finish as the school's second-leading scorer all-time, despite years of facing defenses designed almost solely with the idea of stopping the 6-foot-3 guard from South Boston High School.
To Mack, this form of compliment is also a surprise.
"I've scored more in college than I did in high school," said Mack, who has 1,854 career points and is averaging 24.8 points per game this season in Atlantic 10 play. "When I came here, I expected to be a backup guard, hoping to give Bruiser some minutes."
Flint smiles when asked if Mack has been easy to coach.
"No player is easy to coach," Flint said. "And I tell him he's got nothing to complain about, because we run every play for him, and he shoots every ball. But for the most part, he's been fine."
"He's embraced me like I was his son," Mack said. "So I've tried to treat him like he's my father."
The son has let the father down at least once. In October, Mack was suspended after a shoplifting charge.
"Everybody makes mistakes," said Mack, who admitted he had made a big one but also said he had learned from it. "But I love UMass partly because the coaches hold you accountable as men. They get you prepared for life."
Mack's life on the court has not been easy, either. He'll apparently never have a chance to play point guard, which most scouts assume will be his position as a pro.
He was hobbled by an ankle injury in preseason, and his shooting touch didn't return until this month. He bruised his left knee at the end of Saturday's loss to St. Bonaventure, and says it still hurts when he wakes up in the morning, but not when he plays.
On the other hand, there have been special memories, too. Mack has played his college career with South Boston High teammate Jonathan DePina, for one thing.
He also graduated on time last spring, which allowed him to retrieve his extra year of eligibility he'd lost by sitting out for academics as a freshman. He is already the all-time UMass 3-point shooting king, and he will soon pass Lou Roe (1,905 points) as the No. 2 scorer in school history, trailing only Jim McCoy's 2,374 points.
"He was left off the (John) Wooden Award ballot," said Flint, referring to the list of candidates for player of the year. "Let's be real. How can he be the preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and be left off that list?"
When Mack became eligible to play in 1997, Flint planned on using him as a third offensive option.
"We had Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke, but they were struggling, and Monty was progressing," Flint said. "So Monty became the first option."
Mack has given little thought to the fact one of the most productive careers in UMass history is starting to wind down.
"We still think we can win the Atlantic 10, so I haven't had much chance to think about it," Mack said. "It's run through my mind, though.
"I love this school," he said. "I grew up watching UMass play, it's close to home, and I've liked playing for Bruiser. And when this is all over, there are friendships I've made on this team that I'm not going to want to lose."