By Chris Chaney
A growing and cost-effective answer to scholastic basketball landed in Clermont County in 2011 courtesy of Dwayne and Lisa Mack. Since then, the Eastside Cardinals have tripled in size and gained global appeal.
“We are a non-profit organization,” Dwayne Mack, the president of the Eastside Cardinals said. “We are a select-slash-AAU program, however, we are also into the development of the fundamentals of the game.
“We want to keep our fees to a minimum so that all the money that comes into the program stays in the program.”
At its inception, Mack was primarily a girls’ basketball coach and as such, the organization’s official name is the Eastside Lady Cardinals. Begun in 2011, the original Lady Cardinals were a 10-player girls’ high-school age squad comprised of talent from schools around Clermont County, including Batavia, Glen Este, Milford, Amelia and Williamsburg.
In its present form, the organization now boasts a trio of teams: the original Lady Cardinals as well as a middle school girls’ team and a boys’ high school team.
“We don’t have tryouts, but I go out and look for kids and inquire about kids,” Mack said. “We’ve had players come to us who are interested or who some of players tell us may be interested, but not everyone fits our program.
“We approach it as if we’re school ball. We’re not recreation, we’re more competitive than that.”
Mack said that as a result of some schools implementing pay for play initiatives, some families of his players simply cannot afford to cough up $400-500 a season. What is the school’s loss is Mack and the Eastside Cardinals’ gain.
Mack said his organization’s fees hover right around $85 making it much more accessible for a wider range of talent.
While his girls’ team is made up primarily of school players, they do not have a team in the fall or winter because of the majority’s commitment to their school. The boys’ high school team, on the other hand, fielded enough interest to have a team during the winter.
This winter, for instance, Mack’s high school boys’ team has 10 players playing in a league at Nothin’ But Net Sports Complex on Mt. Carmel Tobasco Rd.
The sheer amount of teams in the Nothin’ But Net leagues proves that there are opportunities for basketball enthusiasts to play even if they choose not to go the scholastic path.
Mack said his teams not only play in a league, but also in various tournaments around the area depending on opportunities. And one such opportunity arose this winter that has taken the Eastside Cardinals from notoriety outside of Cincinnati to around the world.
“We had a three-week dead period around Christmas and one of the owners from Nothin’ But Net told me he’d been talking to Kelvin Taylor of (Aussie Basketball Travellers) and said they would be in town and looking for some games,” Mack explained. “They’re based out of Australia and are an international AAU team. They travel overseas to play games against US teams.”
The ABT had a girls’ and boys’ team in the area, but the Cardinals only had a boys’ team available, so on Dec. 27 teams from two continents squared off.
“We ended up playing them at Cincinnati Christian Schools in Fairfield,” Mack said. “They’re team was big, averaging about 6-2 across the board. We ended up losing by 15 points, but it was a very competitive game and the boys played well.
“They were one of the better teams I’ve seen. They were very fundamentally sound and you couldn’t make mistakes against them or else you would pay for it.”
The two teams participated in a gift exchange following the game, which is international custom and Mack said his team enjoyed the opportunity.
“It was a great experience for our guys,” he said. “They were excited about it and it was fun and we’re looking forward to trying to play again next year as well.”
With the Aussie’s in the rearview mirror, Mack and his team are concentrating on wrapping up their Nothin’ But Net season. The Cardinals have games on Jan. 24 at 5:30 p.m. and Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at Nothin’ But Net this upcoming weekend. They also will play on Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m. with a season finale on Feb. 7 at 8:30 p.m.
Mack said he is always interested in talking to new players at every level. He wants to grow the program, which means starting from the younger ranks.
If you have a child interested in playing for the Cardinals, you can email Dwayne Mack at email@example.com.