Cam Mack can go.

If it wasn't evident when he first signed with Nebraska, it's become more clear as time has gone on — Mack and his unique level of speed is going to be the engine that powers Husker basketball's revamped attack this winter.

Think about some of the guards Fred Hoiberg has coached — Monte Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long at Iowa State; Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo with the Chicago Bulls — then think about how the Nebraska coach described Mack at Big Ten Media Day:

"He's unlike anybody I've ever had," Hoiberg said.

After a summer unlike any he's ever experienced, Mack is settling in as the trigger man of Nebraska's space-and-pace attack. 

He first committed to Nebraska in April out of Salt Lake Community College in Utah, where he averaged 19 points, 5.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game while finishing his lone season of junior college ball as the No. 3-ranked juco prospect in the nation.

However, he couldn't practice with Nebraska when the Huskers prepared for their Italy trip over the summer as he finished up some academic work.

Then, just days before the team was set to head overseas, Mack found himself in the hospital.

"I don't really deal with the hospital. I don't get sick, I don't go to the doctor other than every now and then to get shots," Mack said. "Then when I was in the hospital literally just staying there, it was kind of weird."

After undergoing a long list of tests, Mack was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive track. Generously listed on Nebraska's roster at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Mack "lost 10 pounds he didn't have" Hoiberg said. 

Suddenly, a player who knew nothing but fast had to take it slow.

"It's been kind of hard just because I was on the right path, I was already healthy, I was getting better," Mack said. "But then I just had to take a step back and just regain, just get my body back."

A daily regimen of medication helps Mack keep the disease under control. He says he's back to full health and working to catch up on his conditioning.

Many players talk about having to adjust to the speed of the game when they get to the power conference level. With Mack back on the court, it's his teammates having to adjust to him.

"You can see every day he’s getting more comfortable; he’s playing with more pace. He’s as fast with the ball as anybody that I’ve ever been around, and that’s where it starts with him. He’s running by guys," Hoiberg said. "We’re trying to get them to get out in front of the ball, but with his speed, he’s going by our guys.

"But that’s what we need consistently every practice, and you can see it — he’s getting in better shape, he’s putting weight back on, he’s really buying into the weight room. He’s got a chance to be special."

Haanif Cheatham is one of the wings trying to run with Mack in practice. Entering his fifth year of college hoops with his third college program, Cheatham has learned what it takes to integrate into a roster and become a good teammate.

Mack, he said, has done both despite his limited time on the court.

"Cam’s been great. Even after his setback, he came in ready to rock and roll, and he’s been amazing. He’s done a good job, been a good teammate, fun to play with, and that’s all you can ask for from a point guard," Cheatham said. "I think it’s going to be a great year for the wings running (the fast break), because he’s a pass-first guard."

For Mack, going from from junior college to the Big Ten meant understanding what Hoiberg wants from his guards. 

"Every school I’ve been to, with you and your head coach, you have to be a coach on the court. So it’s just learning what he expects, what plays he likes to run, getting up the court fast," Mack said. "I feel like this level of basketball, it’s not about pace, it’s about knowing the game. You really have to apply the game and be smart, because everybody at this level is smart. Everybody has a lot of court awareness. So you have to play smart."

Mack's awareness seems to be keen, whether it's understanding what will happen on the court, or how he fits into Hoiberg's vision for the future of Nebraska basketball.

"I wanted to be put in this position. I knew I was going to be put in this position. So I expect my coaches to expect a lot out of me," Mack said. "That’s what I want. I’m blessed to be in this position, to be the point guard at the University of Nebraska."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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