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One-and-Fun: With Season for the Ages, Malik Mack Wins Male Rookie of Year

Malik Mack, eight-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week, has earned himself The Crimson's Male Rookie of the Year award.
Malik Mack, eight-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week, has earned himself The Crimson's Male Rookie of the Year award. By Courtesy of Dylan Goodman/Harvard Athletics
By Alexander K. Bell, Crimson Staff Writer

Malik Mack loves to operate under pressure. And many times this season, Harvard men’s basketball Head Coach Tommy Amaker has asked Mack to do just that, putting the ball in his hands and trusting him to make the right plays when it matters most.

In his first collegiate season, the guard from Oxon Hill, Md. unequivocally delivered, breaking a few individual records along the way. Despite falling short of the Ivy Madness tournament, Mack set the Harvard freshman single-season scoring record with 413 points, all while setting up his teammates with a league-best 4.8 assists per game.

After earning the Ivy League Rookie of the Week title a joint-record eight times this season, there was little debate over whether to award Mack the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award to cap off his historic campaign.

“I feel like we had a solid season,” Mack reflected. “It could have definitely gone better, we didn't accomplish the goals we set out as a team, trying to make it to the Ivy League playoffs and then eventually the NCAA Tournament, but individually, I felt like I had a great season.”

After tearing it up throughout the Crimson’s non-conference schedule, including a season-high 32-point performance at UMass Amherst on Nov. 17, which tied for the sixth highest tally in the NCAA for points by a first-year against a D-I opponent, Mack suffered his one major setback of the season when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis in early December.

“It's hard to sit out and watch my guys go without me,” Mack said. “It was a tough recovery process. Different days, you feel different ways. Some days feel good, some days feel terrible, so it was just trying to figure out ways how to bounce back, how to keep my weight up, which is a big thing for me being a smaller player.”

Sickness sidelined Mack for the Crimson’s final three non-conference games and clearly continued to impact his play on the court long after he returned to action in a 89-58 road loss to Princeton in Harvard’s Ivy opener. In that game, Mack shot 0-3 from behind the arc and had a team-high five turnovers.

Before his sickness, Mack was making nearly half of his shots from three-point range, averaging 20.1 points and 4.4 assists per game. After returning from mononucleosis, Mack’s three point average dropped to 24% across the rest of the year, but the freshman found other shifty ways to score, including 100 made free-throws, good for third in the Ivies. Mack finished the season with 15.1 points per game in Ivy play.

“I feel like I've never really got my legs back underneath, but was just trying to find ways to still be productive, and still have an impact for my team,” he said. “It was definitely difficult, but just trying to find different ways to power through because I knew my team needed me, so every game I was available, I was there.”

Mack says his favorite moments on the court from his first season were the team’s outings at UPenn and Brown, citing the intensity of the away crowd, a testament to his fiercely competitive nature. Mack says that he loves the challenge of going into another team’s building and trying to come away with a win.

As a student-athlete at Harvard, Mack has also enjoyed his time in Cambridge, although he appreciates the proximity to a bigger city such as Boston. On campus, Mack says his favorite class so far has been “Quests for Wisdom: Religious, Moral and Aesthetic Experiences in the Art of Living in Perilous Times,” an experimental course co-taught by the legendary anthropologist Arthur Kleinman.

“It's definitely a great, great class on different books, different ideologies, different philosophies, different perspectives that give you a better view on life and how you want to carry out your life through the lens of other people,” Mack said.

Heavily recruited in high school, with offers from top programs like Ole Miss, Rhode Island, and St. Peter’s, Mack has spoken frequently about the influential role that Coach Amaker played in bringing him to Harvard. Amaker has been head coach at Harvard since 2007 after stints at the University of Michigan and Seton Hall University. In college, Amaker played guard for Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski, before beginning his coaching career under “Coach K” as an assistant coach.

During the recruiting process, Amaker would frequently attend Mack’s AAU games, a level of dedication that wasn’t lost on Mack.

“Coach Amaker was a big piece, probably the biggest reason why I came here,” Mack reflected.

“I wanted to learn under him and playing under him was definitely a cool experience, something I never really had from a coach before, just instilling that confidence and letting me play my game to my fullest strengths and giving me every opportunity. Even if I failed an opportunity before he was gonna give me another shot because he trusted in me.”

Despite posting phenomenal numbers with the Crimson, the freshman will take his talents to Georgetown next year.
Despite posting phenomenal numbers with the Crimson, the freshman will take his talents to Georgetown next year. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

After entering the NCAA transfer portal in late March, Mack completed a transfer to the Georgetown Hoyas in April. Georgetown was viewed as a likely destination for Mack because it offers a high level of academic rigor and will enable Mack to pursue NIL opportunities that have so far been spurned by the Ivy League.

At Georgetown, Mack will play his sophomore year under second-year coach Ed Cooley, who coached the Hoyas to a 10th place finish in the Big East in his inaugural season. In addition to Mack, Cooley has brought in several other notable transfers in the offseason, including 6’7” guard Micah Peavy, who will be coming to D.C. from Texas Christian University for his fifth year of college eligibility.

Despite the plethora of individual accolades Mack has acquired this season, his focus moving forward is getting closer to a national championship.

“I want to make the NCAA tournament,” Mack said. “My abilities on the court speak for itself, so just being able to show as a leader, as a point guard, that I can take my team far is my main goal.” The fact that the Hoyas haven’t been to the big dance since 2021 doesn’t seem to bother him; if anything, it gives him motivation.

“Making a run in the tournament is something that I want to do for a team that hasn't been there in a while,” he added. “I feel like if I'm able to do that, then the awards will take care of itself and all the other things that I want to do will take care of itself.”

One thing is for certain: Crimson fans will miss the flare that Mack brought to Lavietes Pavilion in his brief tenure at Harvard. Mack’s departure raises more questions about the Ivy League’s persistent resistance to NIL collectives and the real likelihood that more talented athletes like Mack will choose to bring their talents to schools where they can be compensated monetarily.

For now, Mack will see if he can continue to light up the court with his confident play, albeit in a different colored jersey.
— Staff writer Alexander K. Bell can be reached at alexander.bell@thecrimson.com.

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