Senior's loyalty leads to legendary status
During the final home game of a college sports team’s season, it is customary to honor the home team’s senior athletes before or after the game in what will be their final time wearing their school's home uniform.
This yearly tradition is done to recognize the student-athletes who usually dedicated four or more years of their lives to a program as a commemorative parting gift.
No senior was more deserving of that recognition this season than Rutgers men’s basketball guard Myles Mack.
The Daily Targum’s Senior of the Year experienced much more adversity than the typical college athlete would during a four-year career.
That came courtesy of the Mike Rice scandal, which plastered a scarlet letter on the Scarlet Knights’ basketball program.
But as other teammates left for greener pastures and to avoid the relentless media criticism, Mack’s mind never wavered, electing to stay with the Knights simply because he loved representing his home state.
His reward for staying was not an NCAA Tournament berth — which would have been the programs first since 1991 — nor was it even a single winning season.
Instead, Mack will go down as one of the greatest players to ever don a Rutgers basketball jersey.
The Paterson, New Jersey, native ends his career as a Knight as fourth all-time in assists, seventh in scoring and second in steals behind only current head coach Eddie Jordan.
Coming from national powerhouse St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, where he went 33-0 and won the New Jersey state championship as a senior, Mack joined Rutgers as part of a strong recruiting class that ranked 12th nationally by Rivals in 2011.
That season, he helped the Knights upset Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario and No. 10 Florida, 85-83, in what Mack said was his favorite moment.
Mack scored 14 points that game and finished his freshman year second on the team in scoring with 9.8 points per game.
Back then, the likes of Eli Carter, Gilvydas Biruta and Dane Miller were there to help shoulder the load and despite finishing the year 14-18, things were looking up thanks to their young core.
But by Mack’s senior year, his former teammates had all departed leaving Mack and senior Kadeem Jack to bear the brunt of the scoring load against an unforgiving and deep Big Ten Conference.
The 5-foot-9 Mack averaged 35.4 minutes per game in his senior season — third most in the Big Ten — and led the team in points, assists, steals and free throw percentage.
Unfortunately for Mack, his impressive numbers were not enough to prevent the Knights from dropping 15 straight games to end the season — one loss away from tying the program’s record of 16 set back in 1987-88.
His senior season wasn’t all negative though.
On Jan. 11, Mack helped Rutgers defeat eventual NCAA runner-up Wisconsin, 67-62, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in what stands as the program's biggest win in history.
Mack played 39 minutes that game and scored a team-high 21 points in the Knights’ last win to date.
But despite the ups, the downs and the accolades that came in his time at Rutgers, Mack has no regrets on his decision to stay despite the boatload of opportunities he had to leave.
As for his legacy, when asked following his final game for the Knights at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, Mack again took the selfless route.
“(I want to be remembered) as a great teammate,” he said. “I always just want my teammates to do better and be great guys on and off the court and just play as hard as they can.”
It was a fitting answer for a player who has always put his teammates and program first, even at the expense of losing, something Mack admitted bothered him greatly throughout the season.
And while Mack’s name will be in the program’s record books for decades to come, for those who follow the men’s basketball team, Mack’s selflessness should be the first thing that comes to mind.
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