Sunday, February 2, 2003

Ex-GCL, XU players skip along in ACC


Mack, Kelsey joined Prosser's Wake staff

By Ryan Ernst
Cincinnati Enquirer

Chris Mack and Pat Kelsey have taken similar routes on their way up the college basketball coaching hill.

They've faced the same opponents, played for the same coaches, squared off in open gyms, played in the same arenas and now they find themselves in the same place.

Both former Xavier players are at Wake Forest, the 17th-ranked team in the nation, under former Musketeers coach Skip Prosser. And although the roads they've taken to Winston-Salem, N.C., have made them friends, the first intersection was anything but friendly.

"I actually met Pat when he was in grade school," said Mack, who is 4 years older. "I was a senior in high school (at St. Xavier) and my buddy lived down the street from him. We were playing basketball at Pat's house."

Kelsey picks up the story.

"Chris was the best player in the city when I was in grade school, and I thought guys like him were like Michael Jordan. But at the same time, he was a (Great Catholic League) rival and I hated St. X," said Kelsey, who later starred at Roger Bacon and Elder.

"So when I saw him playing out there, the first thing I thought was, 'Oh, Chris Mack's out there.' The next thing I thought was, 'Ew, Chris Mack's out there.'"

And then came the first of many meetings.

"I went up for a dunk and I was hanging on the rim," Mack said.

"And I had a real nice glass backboard, the only one in the neighborhood," Kelsey said. "So I thought, this is my chance to get him."

"(Kelsey) ran out of the house and started yelling: 'Get out of here. I don't ever want to see you around here again. I don't want you playing here ever again,'" Mack recalled.

"He just sort of looked at me like, 'Whatever, kid,'" Kelsey said.

After the meeting, the two frequently saw each other at open gyms and were a bit more cordial.

Mack went on to earn GCL Player of the Year as a senior and star for two seasons at Evansville before transferring home to play for Pete Gillen and Xavier as a junior and senior. Although his minutes were cut by knee injuries, Mack was a team captain in his two years with the Musketeers.

Kelsey was also a GCL star, leading Elder to a state title in 1993, Mack's senior year at XU. He then spent a year at the University of Wyoming before he, too, transferred to Xavier. Like Mack, Kelsey was a captain as a senior.

Both players said their experience with Cincinnati basketball, particularly the GCL, made the transition to coaching easier.

"That's such a competitive league, with the rivalries, but it's not just an open gym," Mack said. "There is a lot of X'ing and O'ing going on there. As a player, you just normally react to the coach, but you really have to think to be successful in that league."

"It's hard to think of a tougher league in the nation," Kelsey said. "Every coach, from top to bottom, is college-level."

Fortunately for both Mack and Kelsey, once at XU, they met another coach who would affect their lives after graduation. Prosser was an assistant during Mack's two seasons, and in 1994, the season Kelsey sat out as a transfer, Prosser became the Muskies' head coach.

"Coach had a huge impact on us," Mack said. "He's very organized and detail-oriented and he has a tremendous drive to win. The team takes on his personality."

After graduation, Mack used those same attributes while coaching at Mount Notre Dame. In his four seasons at the school, he won four Girls Greater Cincinnati League titles and four sectional crowns. He was the 1996 Enquirer Coach of the Year. Across town, Kelsey was getting his coaching chops at Elder, helping the Panthers to a state final appearance in 2001.

Then Skip came calling. Prosser hired Mack as director of basketball operations for Xavier in 1999. He held the job until Prosser was hired away by Wake Forest in 2001. Mack's loyalty to his alma mater ran deep, but it ran even deeper with his former coach.

"When you take a college position, you're tied more so to the head coach than anything," he said. "That's the reason I came to join the staff at Xavier. I believed in Coach, so to go with him was a no-brainer."

With the move came an opening for Mack on Prosser's bench as an assistant, the next logical step for a director of operations. And the next logical step for Prosser was to hire Mack's old friend, Kelsey, to replace him.

"It's an outstanding opportunity," Kelsey said. "My first job in Division I college basketball is at the Atlantic Coast Conference level, all due to my relationship with Coach and playing for him."

Now, more than 15 years after that harsh meeting, Mack is extending advice to his replacement as the Demon Deacons climb the polls.

"Chris did a tremendous job when he was in my position," Kelsey said. "So he's really showed me the ropes and taken the time to help me until I got my feet wet, so I've learned a lot. Getting to be on the staff with him is great. Chris has a great basketball mind and a bright future."

If the future is anything like the past, guess who won't be far behind.

Others

Colerain graduate Virginia Grace, a junior center at Mount St. Joseph, was voted co-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the week. She averaged 11 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and 2.5 assists in a pair of wins for the Lions.

Steve Banks, a Western Hills graduate, is averaging 12.4 points and 6.3 rebounds for seventh-ranked Lackawanna, a Division II junior college.

The Cincinnati State women's basketball team entered the national junior-college Division I rankings this week at No. 22.

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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