Bri Mack has been working toward earning a chance to play basketball at the college level.
Early last month, the 6-3 center for SouthLake Christian officially made her dream a reality when she signed a national letter of intent with Western Carolina University.
But even after accomplishing that lifelong goal, Mack, 17, is hardly satisfied; instead, she's more motivated by what she now can continue to do on the court.
"It's always all about what is next, no matter what you're doing in your life," Mack said. "When I signed with Western Carolina, it felt like I had accomplished something big, and I had. But is that good enough? Do I just want to go there and sit on the bench for the next four years, or do I want to be an impact player?
"I want to be a player, and continuing to do that starts now."
SouthLake Christian girls' basketball coach Terry Batts also coaches Mack on her Lady Phoenix AAU team, where Mack plays alongside such players as Lake Norman's Marissa Riley and Lake Norman Charter's Jamie Williams.
For the past three years, Batts has been preparing Mack for AAU, high school and now college basketball, and he will continue to get her ready for next year.
Batts has been instrumental in developing his center. Not only has he taught her the game of basketball from the physical and mechanical standpoint, Mack said, but also, and more important, the mental game within the game.
Mack looks up to Batts as both a coach and a former Division I athlete: He played baseball, football and track at Virginia Military Institute.
Batts also helped train his niece, Alex Fuller, who went on to play at the University of Tennessee and win two national championships. In turn, Fuller has given Mack some advice and pointers on and off the court.
"A lot of players are physically ready to go to play college basketball, but not mentally at all," Batts said.
Batts said he works on the mental aspect with Mack all the time, from handling tough calls by officials to dealing with double- and triple-teams. Mack, who is often the biggest player on court, has had to learn how be physical and how she can translate that into the ability to dominate a game.
But her play on the court for both SouthLake Christian and the Lady Phoenix is just a part of the work she does. Outside team practices, Mack regularly works an extra 12 to 15 hours per week on her own.
In that time, she runs sprints, works on the Stairmaster and shoots at least 200 to 250 shots a day and more.
Batts observes and directs a lot of her extra practice and he's the constant critic of his top player.
"The best thing coach Batts has done for me is to give me thick skin," Mack said. "He is constantly pushing me to get better. He has a lot to do with the player I have become and will be."
Over the past two years, Mack has performed very well on the court. She exploded in her junior season at SouthLake Christian, earning NCISAA all-state honors by averaging 18 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per game. She led that Eagles squad to a 22-8 record and a berth in the state quarterfinals, where it lost to Cary Christian.
This year, Mack is nearly as good, averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks through the first six games. (The team was 3-3 when this story went to print.)
Mack also has opened up things for her teammates. As opposing defenses collapse on her, teammates such as fellow senior Courtney Hailey, a shooting guard, flourish. Hailey now averages more than 20 points per game this season..
Mack is also mentoring her SouthLake Christian teammate Savannah Patterson, a 6-1 freshman forward who has some of the skills Mack had early on, according to Eagles assistant coach David Ostroff.
Mack and company will have to step up as the team moves from the 2A to the 3A level in the NCISAA this season. In 3A, such teams as Charlotte Christian and defending state champion Providence Day will be waiting in the postseason.
But first, Batts, Mack and the Eagles hope to win the Metrolina Athletic Conference title, and they most likely will battle defending champion First Assembly.
Mack's goal is to be the best player she can be.
"My goal is to be the ultimate leader and example to my teammates," Mack said. "First, I had to learn to believe in myself, and now it's my job to get my teammates to believe in themselves and be their best.
"If we can do that, everything else will take care of itself."