Mack helps retain roster after Rice firing, embraces role as captain during Jordan’s first season at RU
With flashes in his eyes and recorders pressed within inches of his face, junior guard Myles Mack restored some stability to a Rutgers men’s basketball team that was desperately searching for it.
“Yes, I’m staying,” Mack said during the introductory press conference of head coach Eddie Jordan.
If he could have it his way, all of his teammates during the time would have uttered those three words as well.
Malick Kone was not one of them at first.
Kone had made up his decision even before his former coach, Mike Rice, was fired.
But when Jordan spoke with him after Kone looked at several schools, the 6-foot-5 guard decided to give being a Scarlet Knight another shot.
Jordan was not the only person trying to persuade Kone to stay.
“Myles told me to stay here, but at the end of the day, it was my decision. No one could feel how I was feeling,” Kone said. “But he said I should stay, but if I wanted to go, I could do that too.”
That was the sentiment with most of the Knights’ roster after the fallout of Rice’s termination. There were other options to choose from, and it did not hurt to at least consider them.
One Scarlet Knight who took the bait was junior guard Jerome Seagears, who transferred May 1 to Auburn.
The Silver Springs, Md., native received immediate eligibility to play for the Tigers, who went 9-23 last season en route to a last-place finish in the SEC.
But just a month into his stay at Auburn, something did not feel right in Alabama. Seagears said everything about Auburn was different from his former home.
Once again, Mack played a key role in bringing his teammate back.
The two exchanged text messages during his month departure from the program as Seagears was deciding whether his transfer was the right decision.
“I told him, ‘Just try to come back. I need you here with me,’” Mack said. “And he came back, so I’m just glad he did that for me.”
For Mack, it was just another example of him trying to keep his team together when everyone could have decided otherwise.
Seagears and Kone both elected to stay with the program, while senior forward Wally Judge mulled a decision to play professionally before deciding to stay as well.
“Me and him talked a lot during that time,” Seagears said. “Everyone was undecided and didn’t know what they wanted to do. We always stayed in touch.”
Mack stayed in touch with all of his teammates, though former Knights Eli Carter, Derrick Randall, Mike Poole and Vincent Garrett all left for different opportunities.
Carter departed for Florida, Randall committed to Pittsburgh and Poole decided to use his final year of eligibility at Iona. All three will be available to play this season.
Mack’s focus is on this season — not on the players who departed or a coach who was fired in a midst of a scandal.
“It doesn’t even bother me,” Mack said. “We’re past that right now, and we’re just trying to move forward.”
That begins with a roster — one he had influence in shaping — that takes the the Louis Brown Athletic Center floor tonight against Florida A&M.
Along with the players who decided to stay, Jordan successfully landed transfers J.J. Moore and Kerwin Okoro from Pittsburgh and Iowa St., respectively.
Newcomers D’Von Campbell, Craig Brown and Junior Etou also join a Rutgers program, which is led by Mack — one of three captains named by Jordan earlier this month.
“He hasn’t said much yet, but he certainly leads by example,” Jordan said. “When your best player can compete the way he does, they like that. If you can’t verbally be a leader then lead by example and that’s what he does.”
While Jordan has not seen Mack raise his voice during his time with the team, he understands how important his presence was during a time when Jordan was just worried about having enough players to field a team.
So when Mack finally does have to raise his voice, his teammates will respond, just like they did during the offseason and just like those reporters and the Knights’ fan base did April 23 inside the College Ave. Gym.
“When that one day comes and he opens his mouth, everyone is going to listen,” Jordan said.