Feb. 19, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Passion is what separates players from legends.
Malcolm Mackey didn’t just play basketball at Georgia Tech from 1990 through 1993. For the Chattanooga, Tenn., native, every game was about pure love and unbridled passion.
That love translated to more victories (87) than any player in Georgia Tech history, the most rebounds (1,205), games played (130) and starts (127) in school history, two All-ACC selections, and a place on two ACC Champion teams, something unprecedented in school history.
The Atlantic Coast Conference will honor Mackey as part of its 2012 class of Tournament Legends at this year’s event to be held at Philips Arena March 8 though 11.
It’s flattering and something he pictured for himself during his days as a Yellow Jacket, but never expected.
“I never played for stuff like this,” he said. “I used to see legends, accept awards and different things at some games that I played in and remember thinking to myself, ‘Hey, I remember that guy. He was a good player. I want to be that guy one day. I thank God for the blessing of basketball and that people really appreciated the way I played the game.
“I’m very honored and at the same time, old,” he added, with a laugh. “When they start referring to you as a legend you’re pretty old.”
While Mackey may feel old — he’s actually only 41 — the things he did to earn the accolades he did at Tech and the ones he’ll receive at Philips are ageless.
He relished his role as the blue-collar guy who played with a passion that opponents couldn’t match.
At 6-9, 248, the Brainerd High School star, was simply emulating his hoops heroes, under-sized, over-achieving, dirty-work guys, Charles Oakley and Dennis Rodman.
“These were the guys that I patterned my game after,” he said. “Just watching not only how they rebounded but how they played defense and how they had a presence on the floor, playing physical, playing good defense, helping out your teammates, grabbing the rebounds. Growing up and watching the physical play of the New York Knicks, the physical play of the Detroit Pistons, Bill Laimbeer, guys like that, Adrian Dantley, Charles Barkley, guys who were physical, guys who rebounded, guys and grabbed the ball, I loved that. I felt like that gave me passion to go get the ball. It was a passion thing with me.”
It was that passion that helped fuel the 1990 team to an ACC championship. With so much attention rightfully paid to Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver, aka “Lethal Weapon 3,” Mackey flew under the radar and all over the court, getting his touches by obsessively rebounding the ball.
“My freshman year was what really helped me excel in rebounding,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to receive the ball a lot playing with Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver. These guys were putting up phenomenal numbers offensively. They really didn’t need my scoring. So I was able to focus on the things my team needed me to do in order to win. Rebounding was one of them. If I wanted the ball I was going to have to get it off the glass. That became habit-forming, just to make sure that we got possession of the ball. It was a matter of going to get it.”
The Yellow Jackets went out and won the ACC Championship, despite going 8-6 in conference play and tying for third during the regular season. In the conference tournament, the Jackets beat NC State, Duke and Virginia, each by nine points, and took home the school’s second crown in the Bobby Cremins era five years after his first. Anderson, Oliver and Scott were named All-ACC Tournament first team, Mackey made the tournament’s third team. The Jackets rode their momentum all the way to the Final Four in Denver, where they were finally derailed by eventual national champion UNLV, 90-81.
The Jackets would win the ACC Tournament again three years later, Mackey’s senior year, this time, knocking off No. 8 Duke, Clemson, then upending No. 1 North Carolina, 77-75,. It would be the eventual National Champion Tar Heels’ only loss in their final 18 games through the NCAA Tournament.
“My senior year, was kind of an up-and-down season and we started playing really good basketball at the end of the year,” Mackey recalled. “We exceeded expectations by beating a North Carolina in the ACC Championship. So both [ACC titles] were special just different.”
Mackey never really changed. He left Tech averaging 13.3 ppg and 9.3 rpg. Over his final three seasons, when he was called upon to step up offensively, he did, averaging 15.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, while shooting 54.2 percent. Phoenix drafted him in the first round of the 1993 NBA Draft (No. 27 overall) and he would play one year in the NBA with Phoenix, then embarked on a career overseas, where he played in Spain, Italy, Greece and China.
Another constant in Mackey’s life was the other love of his life, Jennifer, who he met his freshman year at Georgia Tech. They have been married for 17 years and are the proud parents of daughter Jasmine, a junior at Georgia Tech, and son, Malik.
“It means a lot for me to still have the love that I have from her,” he said. “She was at every ACC tournament, she was at every game, even if it was a road game, she was with me at the Final Four. She’s been with me during my professional career in the NBA and in Europe, during the highs and the lows.
“All my teammates know her and probably some of the other legends know her as well,” he added. “Everybody knows my wife. Just like they know me they know her. Everywhere they see me they see her.”
Mackey is looking forward to seeing the other ACC Legends being honored, including UNC’s Kenny Smith, Boston College’s John Bagley, Wake Forest’s Randolph Childress, Clemson’s Sharone Wright and N.C. State’s Todd Fuller, against whom Mackey played several times.
Mackey offered some advice to Tech’s current crop of bigs, advice that would hold true for players at every position that come through Georgia Tech.
“I would want them to understand that the four years you’re spending playing college basketball, you can’t get them back. So make sure that you put every single ounce of energy into it and enjoy yourself,” he said. “Don’t take it as life or death. Take it as a part of your life, these four years that you’re spending at Georgia Tech playing this wonderful game of basketball in that uniform.
“It’s all about the love,” he continued. “It’s not a business. You’re not getting paid to play right now. Just go out there and have fun like you’re playing in the back yard. Have fun like you’re at the park. Have fun like you’re at the rec. center. Play with a smile on your face but also play with a desire to win. If you can do that, when you get to my age you’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Man, I gave everything I had there and I really enjoyed myself doing it.’ That’s one thing I can say about Georgia Tech. I gave it all I had there and I had a great time doing it.”