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Sky second-round pick Natasha Mack is ready to attack

Sky coach Wade sees versatile forward playing significant role on defense

Oklahoma State forward Natasha Mack, right, and Stanford forward Cameron Brink (22) reach for the opening tip of an NCAA women’s tournament second-round game in San Antonio on March 23, 2021.
Oklahoma State forward Natasha Mack, right, and Stanford forward Cameron Brink (22) reach for the opening tip of an NCAA women’s tournament second-round game in San Antonio on March 23, 2021.
Stephen Spillman/AP

Natasha Mack was sitting with her family in Lufkin, Texas, on draft night. Her dream of making it to the WNBA that she had since she first picked up a basketball was about to come true.

Then, 12 picks went by, the first round ended and her name wasn’t called.

“My spirit went down,” Mack said. “At that point, I reminded myself what really mattered was getting drafted to a great team and making a difference once I got there.”

Mack has been reminding herself of the bigger picture her entire basketball career.

In high school, she was a four-star recruit on an average team that never made it to state. To her, that didn’t matter. Mack’s mentality was to let her work do all the talking. She knew that would take her to the next level.

Mack was heavily recruited and ended up choosing the University of Houston. She never played a game for the Cougars. Instead, she ended up returning to Lufkin before enrolling.

After falling out of love with the game, Mack said she took a job at a local chicken plant, Pilgrim’s Pride, on the west side of Lufkin.

“There are three things you can do in Lufkin,” Mack said. “You either have a rap career, play a sport or you’re up to no good.”

Mack spent almost a year at the plant before being recruited by Angelina College, a local community college. She parlayed a scholarship to Angelina into an eventual scholarship to Oklahoma State and the national spotlight.

In two seasons with Oklahoma State, Mack started in all 55 games she played, averaging 18.7 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. In her senior year, she led the country with 112 blocks and broke her own single-season school record. She was named the 2021 WBCA Defensive Player of the Year, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and was a unanimous Big 12 All-Defensive Team selection.

When she heard her name called by the Sky with the No. 16 overall pick, she was relieved but surprised. Mack had no conversations with the Sky ahead of the draft. She spoke with the Seattle Storm, New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream.

When James Wade called her after making the selection, Mack said he told her he didn’t know until about 30 minutes before that he would be taking her with the second-round pick. Wade’s expectations for Mack start with defense. He told her that’s where he needs her to make a significant impact.

Mack’s length, athleticism and ability to protect the rim are all qualities Wade loves about the versatile 6-4 forward. Still, she’s competing for a rookie contract, and Wade’s 20-player training-camp roster is the most competitive he has had since he was hired ahead of the 2019 season.

“There’s always a place for players like that in the league,” Wade said.

Mack arrived in Chicago for the first time a week before training camp and understood why it’s called the Windy City. Before her first week in the city was up, she already had tried deep dish pizza.

Training camp officially begins Sunday, and Mack is coming in with the same mentality that has carried her to this life-changing moment.

“I don’t talk much,” Mack said. “I show my game through my actions.”