As we continue to look at the newcomers on the 2012-13 Michigan basketball team, the freshmen become more and more hyped. Today, let’s take a look at the once top-rated big man in the country, Mitch McGary.
#4 – Mitch McGary
6’10″, 250 pounds
Chesterton High School
High School Stats (2009-10):
22 points, 13.3 reb, 3 assists, 5 blocks, 3 steals per game
Brewster Academy (N.H.)
Prep School Stats (2011-12):
12 points, 10 reb, 2.5 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal per game
Background: Early on in his high school career, Mitch McGary was a tall, lanky, and undeveloped kid playing in the tiny town of Chesterton, Indiana. He didn’t even play varsity ball his freshman year, and he had some academic problems as well, struggling to focus in the classroom and on the court. Michigan had shown some interest in him, having had a certain player by the name of Zack Novak, also from Chesterton, on the roster at the time, but it never seemed like much would come of their relationship.
Fast forward about two years and Mitch McGary was off to New Hampshire for prep school to shore up his grades, get better coaching, and play against the best players in the country. His team, Brewster Academy, boasted as many as eight potential Division 1 basketball players, but McGary stood out with his size, hustle, and rebounding prowess. McGary never scored at a high clip in the NEPSAC, but he didn’t need to with such a star-studded team around him, a team that went 66-3 in his two seasons there.
McGary provides an instant upgrade to Michigan's interior
On the AAU circuit, McGary made an even bigger name for himself. He thrived in the run-and-gun style of the summer and showcased his uncanny ability to bring the ball all the way up the court himself after gathering a rebound, usually dunking at will on the other end. Before he knew it himself, Mitch McGary was a household name as he rose to the top of recruiting rankings and dropped the jaws of college coaches that packed the house every time he played. Coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and Bill Self put on the full-court press, and not a team in the country would have turned down a commitment from the now cut, athletic, and big kid. Michigan, who had shown that early interest, seemed to now be wasting it’s time going after such a coveted player, but word eventually got out that the Wolverines were actually right in the thick of things. In fact, reports emerged saying that John Beilein was about to gain McGary’s commitment as the early signing day approached.
But that was far from the end of it. Within days of Dave Telep’s report that Ann Arbor would be McGary’s college destination, Telep came out with another story saying that Michigan was all but out of the running. The big man was leaning toward Duke, Florida, or Maryland, depending on the time of day. That’s how it went for a number of weeks, as no one truly knew where McGary would end up. Then, as signing day continued to draw near, McGary’s verbal pledge to John Beilein was broadcast live on ESPNU, and he instantly became Michigan’s biggest recruit in more than a decade.
If there is a single moment that Michigan fans will look back on years down the road in declaring that their team was back from the dark ages for good, that day would be a top choice. A consensus top-five recruit in the country, a Wolverine.
Interestingly enough, the story was still not complete. McGary’s final year at Brewster saw him disappoint to an extent, not meeting expectations as the dominant post player he was thought to be. He came off the bench at times and barely averaged double digits in points. Then again, it’s tough to judge players individually on such an impressive team overall. In the end, McGary’s commitment was still a turning point for John Beilein and this Michigan team, a signal to the rest of college basketball that Michigan truly is ready to tussle with the big boys. And even though he is now regarded closer to the 30th-best player in his class as opposed to the 2nd-best, Mitch McGary is expected to contribute immediately, and in a big way.
What He Will Provide:
1. Rebounding Prowess: If McGary is relied upon to do one thing in his first season, it will be to clean up the glass. Michigan has yet to be a great rebounding team under Beilein, but McGary could change that single-handedly. Beilein’s system stresses defensive rebounding and stopping the transition game, so offensive rebounding has never been a priority for his teams, but he has hinted this offseason that he may send more guys to crash the offensive glass to pick up a few easy buckets a game that way. Offensive put-backs and transition baskets are the easiest points in the game, so watch for Beilein to continue to stress stopping their opponents from doing both but pushing his own team to go after these types of buckets. It’s not inconceivable to imagine McGary averaging double-digits in rebounds; granted, that is quite a high number for college, but it is also doable for a player of his caliber.
2. Novak-like Toughness: Beilein mentioned this offseason that there must be something in the water in Chesterton, because both of his players from the small northern Indiana town play like the Energizer Bunny. Novak made a name for himself by diving after loose balls and bodying up to players that sometimes seemed to be twice his size. Luckily for Michigan and Beilein this time, however, size won’t be an issue for McGary, but he still seems to put forth 100% effort every time down the court. Combine McGary’s size, talent, and natural athleticism and mix it with a large dose of hustle and you come up with a monster on the court. That’s exactly what McGary can be.
McGary already looks good in the Maize and Blue (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)
3. Versatility: While McGary’s game is not all that multi-dimensional, he provides Beilein with options he has never had before. Last season fans waited for the time Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan would see significant time on the court together, but that time never came due to a number of factors, including Horford’s injury and Morgan’s propensity to commit fouls. This year, Beilein has openly admitted that he and his assistants are at the very least considering implementing a true two-big offense, and McGary is a big reason for it. His huge frame paired with Jordan Morgan, Max Bielfeldt, or Jon Horford on the court would create nightmares for opposing coaches, especially if the other team lacks size.
4. Swagger: If Michigan has lacked one intangible since the early 1990s and the Fab Five, it’s this. Swagger is far from necessary for a team to succeed, and too much can tear a team apart and create individuals that butt heads. But in small, effective, and controlled doses, the swagger that McGary will help provide can do wonders in intimidating every opponent. Some of the best teams in the country can essentially put a win on the board before a home game begins because they have swagger that renders the other team helpless. Look no further than the broken backboard video above to see McGary’s swagger in full force.
What He Will Have to Work On:
1. Shooting: While Mitch McGary’s mid-range and deep shot are far from broken, they certainly aren’t going to be enough right now to be relied upon. Now Michigan shouldn’t have to rely too heavily on McGary’s scoring this season, especially from the outside, but if he is going to play significant time at the four, I still think he will have to keep the defense honest at times. Two big men won’t be able to live in the post constantly, so look for McGary to work on developing a nice and consistent 12-15 foot jumper.
2. Basketball IQ: This is not by any means calling out McGary’s smarts on the court; he will simply have some adjusting to do in his game before he will be a college star. While he may have been able to bring the ball up court all the way by himself in high school and certainly was able to overpower defenders with his strength, McGary will need to be smart about how he plays on the court in college. If he’s not wide open on the fast break, he will need to learn to pass it up for a better and safer look. If he’s double-teamed in the post, he will need to learn to not force it but rather pass the ball up for an open shot for a teammate. And if he picks up an early foul, McGary will need to pay special attention to defense. His energy will certainly be an asset, but he needs to control it and turn it into positive energy.
3. Filling a Role: By all means the whole incoming freshmen class has been wonderful in adjusting to playing as a team and not worrying about their own stats, but practice has just gotten underway and no one has played a real game yet. I don’t anticipate that any freshmen will have a problem in caring too much about their own numbers, but it is always worrisome when blue-chip recruits have to adjust to being second- or third-fiddle on the team. McGary will certainly have a role to play on this team, and that is grabbing rebounds and playing tough defense. If he isn’t getting 10 shots per night, he cannot start complaining about “getting his”; he will simply have to accept his role, fill it as well as he can, and help the team in any way he can.
Burning Question: How much will John Beilein actually use two of Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary, Jon Horford, Max Bielfeldt, and Blake McLimans on the floor at once?
If John Beilein really does switch his patented, traditional four-out, one-in to a base two-big offense, Mitch McGary could see 25-plus minutes a night, but if Beilein decides to stick with the smaller offense a majority of the time, McGary’s minutes could linger around 15 minutes a game if he doesn’t beat out Jordan Morgan on the depth chart. My best guess is that we will see a good mix of both types of offenses, but different opponents will dictate different styles of play. McGary’s minutes will be dependent on how Beilein chooses to exploit these matchups.
Stat Predictions: 10.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 blocks in 22 minutes per game.