CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Michael Cage is one of the most recognizable players in NBA history, and it’s not because he was a superstar. That’s not to say that Cage was bad — he was a second-team all-american for San Diego State in 1984, he led the NBA in rebounding in 1988, played in the league until he was 38 and averaged a double-double three times in his 15 pro seasons — but he’s a long way from the kind of generational talent whose name will still reverberate even though he was in the NBA just one season this century.
No, it wasn’t Cage’s play that made him memorable.
It was his hair, the illustrious jheri curl that he sported when he first entered the NBA, just 11 picks after Michael Jordan.
But it may not be all that long before Cage is known for something else: simply being M.J.’s dad.
M.J. Cage has emerged as one of the best front court prospects on the west coast. A top 25 recruit in the Class of 2016, according to Rivals.com, Cage is the latest in a long line of stars that have come out of Mater Dei HS (CA), a program that routinely churns out high-major prospects, most recently incoming Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson.
At 6-foot-10, Cage has a terrific build — broad shoulders, long arms — and great hands, snagging anything and everything within his reach. He’s got a good feel for the game, he can pass out of the post and he’s got a soft touch around the rim. At this point in his development, he’s a bit more of a finesse player despite his size, which is ironic given that his dad had a reputation for being one of the NBA’s premiere tough guys.
“Training with my dad has gotten me a lot better,” the younger Cage said at the NBPA Top 100 Camp last week, emphasizing a point that his dad has been trying to drive home. “Keep working hard, because you can always outwork someone even if they’re better than you.”
And while his dad is — rightfully — trying to bring out the mean streak is his soft-spoken, mild-mannered son, M.J.’s goal this summer is to expand his offensive repertoire.
“Work on my jump shot and my dribbling, so I can be able to bring the ball up and take people off the dribble instead of just posting up all the time,” he said. “I’m trying to be a stretch four, maybe even a three.”
Cage lists offers from a number of the most high-profile programs across the country, but as of right now, he’s focusing on just three schools: Kentucky, Arizona and San Diego State, as Cage boasts strong ties to all three.
Cage’s father played his college ball at SDSU. “I go up there because my dad went there,” Cage said. “I like their crowd.” He’s also quick to point out that his father hasn’t started pushing him in the direction of the Aztecs … yet. “He probably secretly wants me to go there,” he said with a smirk, “but he just doesn’t tell me.”
As far as Kentucky is concerned, Cage said he loves the history of the program and how they are able to send players off to the NBA, and it doesn’t hurt that head coach John Calipari coached the elder Cage for a year when they were both with the New Jersey Nets, and the younger Cage called him a “family friend”. Cage was actually one of the first players in the Class of 2016 that Calipari offered, as he extended a scholarship prior to the start of this past high school season while at a Mater Dei practice. Kentucky was a finalist for the services of Johnson.
Cage was born in Arizona, as if the connection of having a former high school teammate on the roster wasn’t enough.
But while those three schools are currently front runners, Cage says what’s most important to him is a program that will allow post players to shine.
“A school that will pass the ball to the bigs,” he said, “and isn’t just run by the guards where all the guards are shooting every shot.”