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Feb. 21, 2012
Whether in youth or adulthood, in vehicles or choice of college, Malcolm Mackey knows a good sales pitch when he hears one. And Georgia Tech is especially pleased he recognized one more than 20 years ago.
The seeds for the Yellow Jackets' first Final Four appearance were planted in the summer of 1988, when Mackey, a well built player from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Kenny Anderson, one of the most acclaimed New York playmakers outside of Broadway, met at a summer all-star camp. They clicked. If cell phones had been invented, they'd have burned minutes as they ultimately burned overmatched opponents.
These days, Mackey remains the Jackets' career rebounding leader, and he's the institute's ACC Legend as the conference tournament returns to Atlanta. The only Jacket to start on two ACC championship teams, he has a resume that stands on its own.
But he is aware and happy that he's often linked to the guy who often got him the ball.
"We hit it off and exchanged phone numbers and addresses," Mackey said. "We would talk to each other during the recruiting process. Our two schools in common were Georgia Tech and North Carolina. I think Kenny signed first and then he called me and said he would love to play with me. He was definitely part of my decision-making because I knew the impact of playing with a good point guard."
He also knew the value of the total experience at Tech, which was developing along with the city that would host the 1996 Olympics.
"Atlanta is a great city where a lot of people are successful and where you can grow," Mackey said. "I felt Bobby Cremins had the coaching style that fit my game. With the players I would be playing with, I knew right away we would have a nationally ranked team."
These relationships are common these days, but they were in their relative infancy in the late 1980s, when the summer basketball circuit was starting to take off. This one would prove to be especially important to ACC hoops history.
The 1989-90 Tech team is best known for Lethal Weapon 3, the nickname given to the triumvirate of Anderson and wing men Brian Oliver and Dennis Scott. But the point guard and the diligent big man, Mackey, were another solid team within a team.
It often worked like this: Mackey would claim a defensive rebound and fire a crisp outlet pass to Anderson, who'd bolt upcourt and have options on either side. In the 1990 NCAA Tournament, the Jackets met LSU and a center named Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq got his 14 rebounds, but Mackey matched him. Breaking even on the glass meant a general advantage to the Jackets, who prevailed for a trip to the Sweet 16.
"I remember the whole week of the tournament in New Orleans," Mackey said. "That was some of the most fun I've had in my life."
Having already won the ACC Tournament, Tech had enjoyed a successful season. But the program had never been to the Final Four until the Jackets dispatched two Big Ten foes, Michigan State and Minnesota, for the right to play in Denver.
Neither altitude nor the prospect of playing the eventual champion, UNLV, bugged this bunch.
"When you're playing in that type of game, when you know the whole world is watching, you feel like you're walking on air anyway," Mackey said.
Anderson would go on to the NBA after his sophomore season, but Mackey hung around to add to his personal legacy.
In 1992, the Jackets pulled off one of the great last-second wins in NCAA Tournament history when James Forrest threw in a buzzer-beater to beat Southern California and ran into Mackey's arms.
"It taught me something I use in my professional career: The game is never over until you see all zeroes up there on the scoreboard," Mackey said. "I remember the other team celebrating like they had won and not realizing that the game wasn't over. When we hit that shot, it was a tribute to not giving up."
As a senior in 1993, Mackey helped the Jackets defeat that season's eventual NCAA titleist, North Carolina, in the ACC Tournament finals. A few months later, he became a first-round NBA draftee. He played one season for the Phoenix Suns and for more than a decade overseas.
"When I came to Tech, I was listed as a good player, but I don't know if anybody expected me to achieve the things I achieved at Tech," he said.
These days, Mackey is the Internet sales manager of a Georgia car dealership, which means he still fields offers and still recognizes the value of teamwork.
"I remember being a young guy at Georgia Tech when guys would receive awards at half court," he said, reflecting on his imminent ACC Legends honor. "It's funny how things turn. Now I'm that guy."