PORTLAND – Shelvin Mack sat down in the Portland Expo bleachers, listened to the first question and said four words as sincerely as he could.
“It’s not that bad.”
In the past two weeks, Mack has had his basketball life turned upside down. Instead of continuing his once-promising career in the NBA, Mack was in the Expo on Tuesday morning, explaining his situation.
Mack, 22, took part in Tuesday’s Maine Red Claws media day, as the team’s first-round draft choice (fourth overall) in the NBA D-League draft on Nov. 2.
Just five days before, on Oct. 28, Mack was planning for his second season with the Washington Wizards.
Mack’s resume seemingly assured a long NBA career – once among the nation’s top high school basketball prospects, Mack prospered for three seasons at Butler University, including two NCAA title-game appearances, and then he was the Wizards’ second-round draft pick (34th overall) in 2011.
He was a backup point guard last year, averaging 12.2 minutes a game (3.6 points, 2.0 assists).
“I thought it went well, playing behind the franchise player, (starting point guard) John Wall,” Mack said. “In my limited minutes I did what I was supposed to do: Come in and take care of the ball, making sure we had high-quality possessions.
“I felt comfortable with the way I played.”
Never mind that Washington signed two free-agent veteran guards, A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo — the latter on Oct. 1 – Mack felt secure.
“I had a partially guaranteed contract,” Mack said of the $300,000 Washington would owe him if he was cut. “And I thought I did a great job in the preseason. I had the best assist/turnover ratio on the team.”
But even with Wall injured, the Wizards went with Price and Pargo, and released Mack.
“It was a major shock,” Mack said. “I didn’t see it coming. They decided to go with (players) with more experience.”
Mack’s misfortune turned into Maine’s gain.
“He’s a pro,” Red Claws Coach Mike Taylor said. “You can tell how well he’s been coached, at Butler and with Washington. He really controls the game and reads the situations.”
And despite his drop from the NBA to the D-League, there has not been one pout from Mack.
“He’s come in here and the way he’s handled himself so far, great things are ahead for him,” Taylor said.
Mack knows he’s not the only one here with NBA experience. Both Chris Wright and Xavier Silas have played on the big stage, and now they’re back in Portland, working to get back there.
The best cure for disappointment is to keep playing. Mack did not want to go overseas and opted for the D-League
“In life you have challenges,” Mack said. “Not everyone has a successful road in the NBA. Everyone here is trying to come together to make a team. Instead of being selfish, you come here and do the best you can do.”
The shock of being released is still present, but Mack is playing basketball and getting over the slight, one dribble at a time.
“It was someone else’s decision. You’ve got to move on,” Mack said. “It’s not as difficult as I thought it would be. I got a lot of support from my family and my girlfriend. And I’m here with great people.”
So maybe Mack is telling the truth: It’s not that bad.
“He’s going to be outstanding,” Taylor said.
NOTES: Guard Jeremiah Rivers is still in Portland, attending the Red Claws’ practices. But while his teammates are on the court, Rivers is on an exercise bike or stretching. He is still recovering from double ankle surgery last February and failed his physical.
Rivers did not know when he would be cleared to play but he wants to be in Portland.
“I’m still able to do a lot of things – but not 100 percent,” he said. “I’m here to be part of the team. I’m learning the plays. I don’t want to fall behind.”
Fall behind? Rivers, the oldest son of Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, might have some familiarity with the Red Claws’ system, which is the same as Boston’s.
“A little familiarity,” Rivers admitted with a grin. “I know a little bit.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]