About a year ago, Charlotte Catholic boys’ basketball coach Mike King watched B.J. Mack play an eighth-grade game at Holy Trinity Middle School. King had heard good things about Mack and knew he would be enrolling at Charlotte Catholic for the 2015-16 school year.
What he saw at Holy Trinity that day was a 6-foot-7 center who was much better than he’d imagined.
“It didn’t take long to see that the kid had a very mature game,” King said. “He almost had like a guard’s mentality. He saw the floor really well, and even though Charlotte Christian ran two and three guys at him, he passed to the next guy.
“That’s tough when you’re as skilled as him at the middle-school level and everyone is there to see you. You see that as a coach and your creativity kicks in.”
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King devised an offense to take advantage of Mack’s height, his bulk at 240 pounds and his skillful passing. He surrounded the freshman with four guards, forcing teams to double-team Mack -- or allow him to score.
Catholic, which plays North Mecklenburg in the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game Saturday, is 30-1, largely because that offense is difficult to stop.
Mack, 15, averages 12 points and 6.5 rebounds, and four Cougars average at least eight points. He has college scholarship offers from Georgia and Virginia Tech, and said North Carolina, N.C. State, Richmond, Tennessee, Wake Forest and Xavier have shown interest. A few weeks ago, North Carolina coaches invited Mack to attend the Duke game in Chapel Hill.
“He’s got a lot of potential,” Harding coach Walt Aikens said. “He’s got a big game now but a lot of room for improvement. But if he grows, he could be like (former West Charlotte All-American) Kennedy Meeks, but even more of a force inside.
“A ninth-grader who could possibly (grow to be) 7 foot tall? He’s going to pose a problem for everybody.”
Mack said he isn’t surprised he’s enjoyed success as a freshman. He said he works out two or three times a week at Accelerate Basketball, a training facility in the Ballantyne area, with trainers Randall Clark, Blake Boehringer and Brandon Payne, the guys who train NBA star Stephen Curry. They’ve helped develop a big post player with soft hands, nimble footwork and a soft shooting touch to about 15 feet.
“They’ve helped me a lot since I was 10,” Mack said. “I don’t think I’d be the same player without them.”
Catholic, which returned nine seniors, won its first 22 games this season, reeling off a school record for consecutive wins. Ardrey Kell upset Catholic 60-58 late last month, but Catholic quickly returned to its ball-sharing, winning ways and will arrive Saturday for the school’s first regional championship game.
Coach King says Mack has been a major reason for the Cougars’ success.
“If he doesn’t get double-teamed, he’ll get a good (shot attempt at the basket),” King said. “It opens up so many opportunities for the rest of our guys to get easy shots or layups. He’s so unselfish. He makes the right pass and will make it 100 times in a game if he had to.”
King believes Mack is discovering how good he can be.
“Everybody who sees him play says his (soft hands and footwork) are unbelievable,” King said. “Now he’s gotten into better condition and is keeping up with the varsity game. He does what we’re asking him to do and does it very well.
“I take a lot of calls from a lot of (college coaches) from places where you better be pretty good if you’re going to play at those schools. Honestly, I kind of compare him to a basketball version (of former national football player of the year) Elijah Hood at Catholic.
“I think he can be that good.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr