Lake Norman & Mooresville

Hard work starts to pay off for Eagles star

SouthLake Christian's Brianne Mack has drawn the interest of many Division I schools. The 6-foot-3 center is averaging nearly 20 points per game and is also big on the boards for the Eagles.

But first-year SouthLake head coach Terry Batts, who also coaches the junior in her AAU team, knows there is still a lot of work for Mack to do.

"She's still a work in progress," he said.

Mack admits Batts' high expectations have played a big role in the significant improvement she's had the past few years.

"He never tells me 'good job' because he knows that's the day I'll stop working," she said. "Sometimes I'm not always happy with that, but I wonder if I wasn't being pushed by Coach - if somebody was patting me on the back - would I have come this far."

Batts was a quick learner, making varsity as a freshman after picking up the sport only two years earlier.

"I wasn't necessarily good from the get-go and I failed constantly, but the more I've worked at it, the more I succeed," she said.

Although she feels she's started the season on the right foot, Mack isn't happy about where she is right now.

"I keep beating myself up," she said. "I could be doing so much better."

Mack dedicated herself to basketball during that time, losing nearly 35 pounds and building a work ethic that matches her potential on the hardwood.

"I've really grown into the sports, so I couldn't stop," she said. "I love the game."

Her biggest motivation is playing collegiately, something that is very much at hand, but requires a lot of devotion.

"I knew I would have to dedicate a lot of time - I can't necessarily have the best social life or just lay back and do what everybody else does," said Mack.

She takes at least 100 shots a day to build muscle memory, going to the gym even on her off days. Mack also does a rigorous cardio workout and lifts weights.

"Pretty much when I'm not at practice, playing in a game or at school, I'm at the gym," she said.

But Mack doesn't mind sacrificing her Saturday nights or vacations, as she feels that it is paying off on the court.

"You have to work - there's no way around it," she said. "When I see myself improve, that just makes me want to work harder."

Mack is not a typical high school post player. She plays with her back to the basket, which enables her to open herself up to her teammates on the outside and demand the ball when she's open.

Mack, who rarely dribbles the ball once she gets it down low, is able to shoot hook shots with either hand, which makes it harder for her smaller opponents to defend.

Her height causes big matchup problems, especially as she becomes more active offensively, but more importantly she opens up the floor for the rest of the Eagles.

"A lot of teams are double- or triple-teaming her," said Batts. "It gives our other players the ability to play."

He added that SouthLake is far from a one-player team.

"We probably have five skilled basketball players at any one time," said Batts.

Independence transfer Courtney Hailey is one of the players benefiting from the extra pressure on Mack, shooting well beyond the three-point line. Batts referred to Hailey as one of the best "pure shooters" in the state.

Freshman Giselle Verville has also been proficient from the outside, while sophomore Anna Landis has also played well.

Mack said SouthLake has been clicking so far this year, starting the season 9-2.

"Everybody's playing together," said Mack. "With the post presence and really good, quick guards, we've come together as a team."

The 17-year-old has lofty goals for the team, whose motto is "We play hard, we play smart, we play together," expecting the Eagles to win the Metrolina Athletic Conference and even contend for a state title.

"This is a great team, so I don't expect anything else," said Mack.

Whatever happens along the way, Mack hopes to be abetter player when the season comes to an end.

"I want to be dominant," she said. "I want to be seen as top in the nation - that's a big goal, but I have standards for myself.