By Matt Bradshaw —
Men’s basketball entered a new era with a smooth start these past few months. Chris Mack took control of a struggling program and lifted the outlook with leadership, accessibility and prime recruiting.
It seemed fitting for a successful head coach like Mack to continue the winning tradition of such a prestigious program. Not all traditions endure though, and Mack changed one last week: the locker room policy.
For the past 50 years, local media utilized an open locker room following all men’s basketball home games. The players were always available for questions and the setting provided a vehicle for fans to receive nuanced stories and details about the team.
Following their home opener, Mack decided to officially prohibit media from visiting the locker room post-game. Instead, two or three student athletes will be available for comment in the KFC Yum! Center interview room.
Mack provided a useful metaphor to explain his decision.
“When you were a little kid and your parents were saying ‘Eat everything on your plate,’ you’re like ‘I don’t like broccoli.’ Your parents say ‘I want you to try it.’ You’ve got to try it and then you can make a decision,” Mack said.
Kenny Klein, sports information director for men’s basketball, had told Mack the media was used to an open locker room. Mack never used the policy while coaching Xavier but elected to try it for the season opener versus Nicholls.
“I tried it,” Mack said. “I didn’t like it. And it’s in my opinion that, a lot of times, some negative things can happen in an open locker room setting.”
The media incurred criticism from Card Nation after reporting the closed policy during the game against Southern. Fans claimed an open locker room was unnecessary and that, as Mack said, it causes more problems than it’s worth.
Journalists defended themselves by pointing out that many used the old policy to positive effect and interacted with players to discover meaningful dialogue. While true for most cases, the methods can occasionally cause strife within a team.
“A guy might have three points, he may have defended his tail off and blocked out every single time,” Mack said. “All of a sudden, twelve cameras are next to the guy that had 24 points and maybe did a lousy job. I just think that can cause a little jealousy and tension in the locker room.”
Whatever the case, U of L now falls in line with most men’s basketball teams across the nation. They were one of the few who still enacted an open locker room policy prior to Mack. The four who still do are Duke, Syracuse, Seton Hall and Michigan State.
One aspect of Mack’s personality that garnered acclaim from fans is his relatability and accessibility. The coach says that won’t change with the arrival of any new policy.
“I’m not this evil guy that’s shutting down the media in any way, shape or form,” Mack said. “If you’ve been around my program before, you know you can have total access. You want to come to practice? Ask Kenny and I’ll let you come to practice.”
Beyond stories and team details, the main quibble the media has with the new policy is that Mack now controls communication between players and everyone else. Accessibility remains the same, only now journalists have to specifically request one-on-one time instead of a locker room free-for-all.
Mack said his main reason for the change was cohesion between his players. With a 3-0 start and recent victory over a tough opponent in Vermont, the chemistry of Louisville seems to be working well so far.
“My job as a coach is to make sure that I’m forming the best team I can,” Mack said. “That doesn’t mean media is bad, coaches are good. I’ve had great relationships wherever I’ve gone with media. And that’s not going to change here.”
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Photo by Karen Nguyen / The Louisville Cardinal