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Mitch McGary: Breakout star of the tournament … and a unicyclist?

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ATLANTA — By now, we’ve all seen the picture.

The high school version of Mitch McGary, wearing a shirt and tie, some slacks and a top hat cocked to the side while riding a unicycle.

The question we all had was ‘how’? How does a man standing all of 6-foot-10, 255 lb, manage to figure out how to ride a unicycle.

The answer: a paper route as an 11 year old.

“My friend had a paper route and he’d always go out of town so I would do his paper route on the unicycle,” McGary said. “The neighborhood route was 1.4 miles. It was pretty cool, a good workout.”

“My brother bought me one for my birthday and I was out practicing for about a week and a half straight. Finally got the trick and the hang of it and ever since I’ve been riding one.”

While McGary now claims to be a master — one of the three unicycles that he owns has a tire “four or five inches wide” because he broke a rim riding off of too many curbs — getting to the level where he can call what he does on a unicycle “off-roading” was not an easy process. Think about how long it took you to learn how to ride a bike, and now think about riding a bike with one wheel and no handlebars.

Needless to say, McGary ended up hitting the ground quite often.

“I fell on my face plenty of times,” he said. “Busted up my knees, elbows, hands.”

“But it was all worth it.”

 

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Perhaps the most interesting element of McGary as a player is that the biggest knock on him as a player may also be his biggest strength.

When he was in high school, McGary was, at one point, considered to be a top three recruit in the Class of 2012. Much of that was the result of McGary being stronger and simply playing harder than any other big men at the high school level. There’s a reason that he was often compared to former North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough, and it wasn’t simply the fact that they share the same demographics. He’d dive on the floor for loose balls, he’d be unafraid to throw his weight around in the paint and he wouldn’t be afraid to let everyone in the gym know when he scored.

‘Motor’ was always the first word brought up when discussing his ability, and McGary carried that on to the college ranks as well, but that’s where his shortcomings began to catch up with him.

For starters, McGary has a sweet tooth. And a grease tooth. As a result, his weight reached as much as 275 pounds this season, but a renewed dedication to conditioning and a focus on maintaining a healthier diet has led to McGary streamlining his body, shedding 20 pounds as he stopped eating deliciously chubbifying foods like “pizza, hamburgers, fatty foods and a lot of junk food”.

“Right now, I’m at about 255 and I want to keep losing weight and build muscle and just lean up even more,” McGary said. “It has helped my motor even more. I’m a high motor guy who likes to get going and stay active. Now with less weight, I think I have more endurance and I’m able to stay on the court longer periods of time.”

Shedding those pounds has also helped McGary’s quickness, which means that he’s caught out of position on the defensive end less often. Part of the reason that his minutes were inconsistent earlier in the season is that he would pick up silly, quick fouls that forced him to the bench. “He’s gotten to play longer stretches of time because he’s getting to spots quicker and he’s working earlier in possessions,” assistant coach Bacari Alexander said.

The other aspect of the game where McGary has really developed is in his understanding of the Michigan offense and his role in it. One of the most difficult things for any freshman to do is to learn how to slow down. College basketball, especially at the Big Ten level, is played at such a different speed than in high school that there is a tendency for them to rush, to hurry. Maybe it’s running off of a pick before the screener is set. Maybe it’s over-playing a pass on the defense end of the floor and getting beat back door. Maybe it’s the unforced turnovers that stem from being to anxious with the ball in your hands. That’s a skill, and it takes time — and reps — to develop it, just like any other skill.

There’s a reason that one of John Wooden’s most famous quotes is “be quick but don’t hurry”.

According to Alexander, McGary’s development has had as much to do with his ability to slow down as it has with his newfound health-kick. He’s learned how to read a defense. He’s learned why doing things a certain way will put him in a better position to succeed.

“The thing that I’m most pleased with is that he’s playing with a purpose,” Alexander said. “When he’s out there getting rebounds, he understands what he had to do to achieve that. When he’s finishing layups, he understands the footwork to get that done.”

“You’re seeing a much more under control Mitch McGary.”

It’s paid off, as McGary has not only been the best player on Michigan during March, he’s been the breakout star of the 2013 NCAA tournament. Through four games, he’s averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 boards. He gave all-american center Jeff Withey 25 points and 14 boards when the Wolverines landed a come-from-behind win over Kansas in overtime, doing most of his damage earlier in the game to keep Michigan within striking distance. He had eight points and five boards in the first few minutes to set the tone in Michigan’s blowout win over Florida.

It’s not a coincidence that this hot streak has happened with McGary taking over the role of starting center.

“My confidence has been sky rocketed since the last five or six games,” he said.

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McGary’s growth as a player started before he even reached Michigan.

During his time at Brewster, McGary was forced to play a reduced role on a team that had more weapons than any team he had played on before.

“I had to take the back seat,” he said, “be more of a team player than the star of the team. I kind of did that, and I knew I would have to do that in college.”

But it didn’t come without consequence. McGary’s ranking dropped from top three in the class to closer to the top 50. Some of that was the result of scouts realizing the limitations of his game. Some of it was the reduced role that he found himself. But that doesn’t mean that it was easy to see his name sliding, and it was even harder when he got to Michigan and found himself coming off the bench. He didn’t play more than 20 minutes in a game until the new year, and he didn’t become the full-time starter until the start of the tournament.

“It’s kind of hard to come in and want to accept your role, especially when you’ve been the leading scorer all your life,” longtime friend and teammate Glenn Robinson III said. “He learned his role, learned the offense, and learned what Coach B wants from him.”

Coach B is John Beilein.

Given the success that McGary has had taking Beilein’s advice as a player, it will be interesting to see if he listens to him off the court as well.

“I think maybe after the season I’ll bring [the unicycles] up and ride it around,” McGary said.

But will coach be OK with you riding it?

“Maybe,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll talk about it.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Bubble Banter: Make-or-break games for Rhode Island, Clemson, TCU and Pitt

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 09: Jaron Blossomgame #5 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates a basket against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first half in the second round of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 9, 2016 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds you see listed below come from. This post will be updated throughout the day. 

STILL TO PLAY

No. 19 Florida State at Clemson (RPI: 61, KenPom: 37, next four out), 12:00 p.m.

No. 8 North Carolina at Pitt (RPI: 63, KenPom: 66, next four out), 12:00 p.m.

No. 25 Wichita State (RPI: 44, KenPom: 12, No. 10 seed) at Missouri State, 12:00 p.m.

No. 12 West Virginia at TCU (RPI: 53, KenPom: 43, first four out), 2:00 p.m.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 54, No. 12 seed) at Northern Iowa, 2:00 p.m.

VCU (RPI: 25, KenPom: 42, No. 9 seed) at Rhode Island (RPI: 47, KenPom: 55, next four out), 2:00 p.m.

Seton Hall (RPI: 48, KenPom: 57, play-in game) at DePaul, 2:00 p.m.

Mississippi State at Vanderbilt (RPI: 45, KenPom: 51, next four out), 4:00 p.m.

No. 14 Purdue at Michigan (RPI: 51, KenPom: 27, No. 9 seed), 4:00 p.m.

Marquette (RPI: 68, KenPom: 31, No. 10 seed) at Providence (RPI: 55, KenPom: 56, play-in game), 4:00 p.m.

Kansas State (RPI: 59, KenPom: 30, play-in game) at Oklahoma, 6:00 p.m.

Northwestern at Indiana (RPI: 100, KenPom: 46, bubble), 8:00 p.m.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 49, No. 9 seed) at Auburn, 8:30 p.m.

USF leaves two sleeping players behind at airport

HARTFORD, CT - JANUARY 25:  Troy Holston Jr. #25 of the South Florida Bulls reacts following a three-point shot in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the game at the XL Center on January 25, 2015 in Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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The University of South Florida’s men’s basketball season reached a new low late this week after the Bulls suffered a conference road loss at Tulsa.

USF fell to 7-20 overall and 1-15 in AAC conference play after Thursday’s loss. Somehow, the program made matters worse by leaving two players behind who fell asleep in the airport as the team waited for a connecting flight home.

According to a report from Collin Sherwin of the Daily Stampede, USF leading scorer Geno Thorpe and third-leading scorer Troy Holston were sleeping as the Bulls waited for a connecting flight at a Houston airport to help get them home to Tampa.

While the rest of the USF team and support staff boarded the connecting flight home, nobody woke up Thorpe and Holston until it was too late and they missed the flight. The school later made sure to get a new flight for the duo so they could make it back to campus.

USF is already facing an NCAA investigation for academic violations and head coach Orlando Antigua was fired from the program on Jan. 3.

Interim head coach Murry Bartow released a statement on USF leaving two players behind.

“Yesterday, as our team traveled back from Tulsa, two of our players were separated from the rest of our team when we boarded a connecting flight in Houston. This unfortunate circumstance, for which I apologize, was recognized by our staff as the plane was leaving the gate and not in time to get the players on the commercial flight. We immediately began to make arrangements to get the players on the very next flight to Tampa, and were in communication with them as soon as was possible. Both players arrived safely home in Tampa later that afternoon, at approximately 4:25 p.m., where a staff member met them at the airport. They are joining the rest of the team in a charity activity today.”

The mother of Troy Holston, Monique Holston-Greene, was not happy about USF leaving her son behind at the airport and made sure to express that on Twitter.

It’s hard to say what the fallout from this might be but don’t be surprised to see a massive amount of transfers from USF this offseason.

USF also might want to consider changing the headline and team photo from its game story from the Tulsa loss. The tweet of the story from the USF men’s basketball account shows a picture of Troy Holston inbounding to Geno Thorpe as the headline mentions that USF is “short-handed” during the loss.

VIDEO: Fairfield knocks off Canisius on Tyler Nelson buzzer-beating three

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Fairfield captured a buzzer-beating win over Canisius on Friday night as junior guard Tyler Nelson hit a pull-up three-pointer for the win.

With the game tied at 55 with under a minute left, Canisius worked the clock to try and get a shot close to the final horn. After a Jermaine Crumpton missed jumper, Fairfield’s Matija Milin corralled the rebound and got the outlet pass to Nelson, who pulled up and made the game-winning three.

Nelson led the Stags with 17 points as Fairfield improved to 15-13 (10-9 in the MAAC) with the road win.

 

VIDEO: Half-court buzzer-beater lifts DIII Ramapo College to conference title

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The Division III ranks had one of the best buzzer-beaters of the season on Friday night as Ramapo College clinched a conference championship in memorable fashion.

Ramapo College was facing New Jersey City University in the title game of the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament on Friday night when the game became tied at 64 after a NJCU free throw with 3.1 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbounds play, Ramapo had to go the full length of the floor. Josh Ford caught the Ramapo inbounds pass near mid-court and found a trailing Thomas Bonacum, who launched a half-court shot and nailed it for the win.

Bonacum finished with 20 points and nine rebounds on the night as he was mobbed by fans for helping the Roadrunners clinch its sixth automatic NCAA tournament berth under head coach Chuck McBreen.

Here’s another angle of Bonacum’s ridiculous shot

 

De’Aaron Fox a ‘game-time decision’ for Saturday showdown

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 23:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 23, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Kentucky star guard De’Aaron Fox is a game-time decision when the No. 11 Wildcats take on No. 13 Florida on Saturday afternoon.

He didn’t practice on Thursday and was limited on Friday due to a knee contusion he suffered on Wednesday night against Missouri.

“He hit his knee,” head coach John Calipari said, according to SEC Country. “It’s not sprained or anything like that. It’s a bruise.”

Fox is averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 assists on the season. He missed one game earlier in the year due to an illness.

Kentucky’s game against the Gators in Rupp Arema will be for first place in the SEC and, in all likelihood, the SEC regular season title.