The kind folks working the late shift at the Morrison YMCA are familiar with Mark Pollack.
He’s the 6-foot-8 kid with the sweet jump shot – the kid they usually have to throw kind-but-not-so-subtle hints that the place is about to close for the night.
“I usually go in around 9 (p.m.), and they’re usually kicking me out at closing,” Pollack said proudly. “I’m just in there trying to get as many shots up as I can before they close.”
The late-night shooting sessions, which almost always have been preceded by intense Charlotte Catholic boys basketball team practices, are among the many reasons Pollack is having the senior season of which he’d always dreamed.
Before the Cougars’ Dec. 18 loss to West Mecklenburg, Pollack led them to four consecutive victories and paced the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Pollack, who has committed to play at Army, has been one of the state’s most prolific scorers, averaging 26 points per game. He’s done this even though opposing teams know that, in order to take down Catholic, Pollack is the one Cougar who must be stopped.
Yet no team has found a way to do it.
This is the way Pollack always wanted to play, always believed he could play. He’s enjoying being the leader of a Charlotte Catholic team that should be in the upper echelon of the ME-GA 7 3A/4A conference and earn a Class 3A state playoff berth.
“I always thought I had the skills to be an elite player, but I wasn’t really recognized, especially in high school,” Pollack said. “I wasn’t invited to a lot of the showcase stuff like a lot of the other guys. But I knew I could be at this level. I’m just trying to prove myself right now.
“It feels great. It’s a testament of hard work. I just want to keep going and finish the season strong.”
Although Pollack was an all-conference performer last season, when he averaged 14.7 points per game, what he’s doing now is a bit of a surprise to some. Last season, Robert Champion was the Cougars’ leader, and Pollack didn’t mind deferring for the betterment of the team, which went on to surpass 20 victories for the first time in more than a decade.
Then the 6-5 Champion (20.4 points per game) and 6-6 Jack Wohlfert (9.8) graduated, leaving Pollack with a responsibility he’d never had: carrying the team load.
Charlotte Catholic coach Mike King has been pleased with the results.
“He’s taken on a huge leadership role for us,” King said. “It’s something that I challenged him with from the end of the season last year. Case in point: (Last week in a win over Garinger), there were four minutes or so to go, and things were going pretty well. But I said, ‘Hey, listen, we want to get layups.’ Mark’s out there, he’s holding the ball and keeping it. And, ultimately, what does he do? He hits (junior guard) Robbie Anderson on a basket cut for a wide-open layup.
“I’m not sure the Mark Pollack from his junior year would’ve done that.”
While opposing teams obviously have to worry about Pollack’s scoring ability, the mild-mannered forward has developed other aspects of his game, which has made the Cougars a more dangerous squad.
“Mark’s grown so much – defensively, his commitment to the rebounds and being vocal and making sure guys know how important possessions are,” King said. “In our preseason conditioning, he was really focusing on the details. When your most talented guy is the guy working as hard as everybody else, it really makes everybody else work. That’s helped our team.”
Pollack attributes his growth to hard work. This summer, he played on an AAU team named Team Charlotte, which is operated by former University of North Carolina and Charlotte Bobcats player Jeff McInnis. He also spent time in Charlotte Catholic’s weight room and, of course, at the Morrison Y, as his dad (Robert) rebounded and fed him passes for countless jump shots.
“When I don’t go (to the Y to shoot), it just feels weird,” Pollack said. “I have to go. It’s just a habit now.”
Such diligence should serve Pollack well when he enrolls at Army’s West Point, N.Y., campus next summer. Other schools had shown interest in Pollack, but last June Army was the first to make an official offer. In September, he visited the school and agreed to become a Black Knight.
“I really felt I had a connection there with the coaches,” Pollack said. “They really cared about me. When I went up there for my visit, I saw a lifestyle that I wanted as a cadet at West Point, and I was amazed by how much history there was there. The campus is beautiful, and it’s right up the road from New York City. It’s perfect for me.”
But military academies such as Army are known for their intense discipline and order. Will Pollack be ready for that as a freshman – or a “plebe,” as first-year students are called at West Point?
“My life is pretty regimented,” said Pollack, who has a 3.3 GPA. “I go up to the Y about the same time every night, I practice the same time every day, and I get my (school) work done between (Charlotte Catholic) practices and going to the Y. That’s just how my days have been, and I think I’ll adapt pretty well at West Point.”
Except the Army commanders probably won’t be as nice as the Morrison Y staff if they have to escort him out of the gym late at night.