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.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.