PITTSBURGH, Pa. – On the windy banks of Lake Michigan, Mitch McGary grew up in Chesterton, Indiana, a town known for its sandy dunes and being the birthplace of comedian Jim Gaffigan. He had a solid high school career at the local public school and enjoyed spending his summers on the beach and playing for SYF, a Gary, Indiana-based AAU program. Through his play on the court, he generated interest from programs in the Big Ten and Big East.
Last year, as his eighteenth year was approaching and college eligibility was looming, he and his family made the decision for Mitch, the youngest of five, to spend the next two years at Brewster Academy, a scenic New England prep school that kisses the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee with a burgeoning reputation as a basketball powerhouse. The decision to transfer schools was educational in nature, but with the added athletic benefit of competing with seven other Division I caliber players in the currently toughest high school basketball conference in the country, the NEPSAC. In his first semester, McGary, who has dealt with ADD, earned a place atop the honor roll. On the court, by mid-December, he was known throughout the conference as a bruising energy guy for the nation’s top-ranked prep school team and easily the league’s best “sixth man.”
Despite playing in a league where teams routinely feature multiple Division-I signees or recruits, Brewster Academy achieved a thirty-one game winning streak over the past two seasons, which was only snapped after a tough road loss to St. Thomas More, a team featuring six scholarship players, including the consensus top ranked junior, Andre Drummond. This was a game that Duke Assistant [private] Coach Nate James nearly attended. The veteran squad rebounded and won six more in a row, including a resounding 94-38 victory over Winchendon in the NEPSAC Class AAA Championships quarterfinals. In that game, the 6’10 250 lb. McGary scored 20 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to lead Brewster to a 30-1 record on the season. Unfortunately for the Bobcats of Brewster Academy, they would lose two of their last three and ultimately close out the season by suffering a narrow four-point defeat in the semi-finals of the National Prep Championship to Notre Dame Prep.
Over the course of the season, McGary added 30 pounds of mostly muscle and significantly dropped his body fat percentage, while developing into one of the top high-energy low-post wide-body prospects in the country. At the recent Pittsburgh Jam Fest, Mitch opened a lot of eyes and raised expectations of some analysts, that had not seen him play in person since early November, through his inspired and skilled play over the weekend. He led his program, SYF, to the Championship of the silver medal round, a round for teams that finished second in their pool play. Throughout the event, Mitch was kind enough to speak with us about a variety of topics to get a better sense of who he is.
Which schools are recruiting you?
Duke, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Florida St., Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Marquette, West Virginia, UConn, Xavier, and Cincinnati.
Talk about some of the passes you threw today and adding another wrinkle to your game.
I don’t know. In the old days, on my old team, I used to kind of just take the rebound and try to bring it up the court, but nowadays (laughs) people are quicker to the ball or I can’t handle the ball quite like I used to, but I got a little bit taller and so I’ve tried to get a lot better at my outlet passes. I’ve tried to add that to my repertoire.
Can you talk about the transition of going to Brewster and how much it has improved your game?
The transition to going to Brewster was a big step for me. Leaving home and going out on my own. I went there because of my grades, but, personally, my grades are now fine. I’ve tried to get stronger and I’ve gained like thirty pounds. I feel healthier than ever. I just need to work on my shooting a little bit more. My post moves are pretty solid, but I just didn’t get the ball in the post a lot today. We were kind of, like, running and gunning a lot today. So, we might slow the game up a bit and I can show you my post work in a game.
Speaking about your improved body, although you didn’t get the ball in the low post, it seemed like because of your motor, you got a lot of second-chance points tonight.
Well, yeah, I mean today wasn’t the best game (15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocked shots). I mean I’m tired from traveling and all I had to do today. I mean a couple of flights and whatever, but I was fortunate to score off of hustle. I should be able to do better tomorrow, but I’m glad we got the win. My motor should be going one hundred percent tomorrow morning. I should be able to have a better game than I did today.
Speaking of travel, do you have any visits planned in the near future?
Not really, I mean I’ve talked about going down to Cincinnati. Getting out to Maryland. Getting out to Florida, Arizona, and Texas. I’ve been to Illinois, Marquette, Purdue, and Indiana so far.
Do you have any sort of timetable for those visits?
Not really. Just some time this spring, summer, or fall. I’ll probably be making my decision next fall anyway.
Playing at Brewster, with that schedule and on a team with a ton of talent (7 high-major Division-I players), how much has that elevated your game?
Just the intensity in practice was amazing. It was frankly just another level of play from my prior school. I mean, compared to my old high school team, I can’t even explain how great the difference was and is. I can’t even tell you just how much better I’ve gotten as a result of being up there with those guys and practicing and just playing until we can’t. It’s also the games, where they’re played frankly at so much faster a pace and with such intensity. There’s just so much more intensity in the games and in individual possessions than at my old school.
Will location play a factor in your decision?
I mean location really doesn’t matter to me. My parents would kind of like me to stay closer to home, but it’s really whatever school fits best for me.
Mike Pegram: What about IU (Indiana University)?
I mean I talked to Coach Tom Crean yesterday and he said he still he wants me to go there. It’s just a matter of me working out and seeing what school fits me the best.
Coach Davis of Cincinnati has been staying on you pretty tough?
Yeah, I talked to him yesterday. He seemed pretty cool. I need to talk to him more often to develop a better relationship with him, but I mean I like Cincinnati too.
What are you going to try to work on over the next year?
Well, last spring, I had an eighteen footer and a three-pointer in my repertoire, but I’m not as good at knocking them down as I used to be. I mean I’m going to continue to lift weights and get stronger. I’m going to be in the weight room a lot. I’m going to work on my shot and continue to work on my conditioning. Over the summer and into next spring, I’d like to work on my shot a lot more.
Yeah, a lot of work on my mid-range.
I’ve seen you at Brewster several times and you’re much more of a bruiser than you were, say, at this time last year.
I mean I guess my coach, Jason Smith, put me in the post a lot more and playing up there is lot tougher.
Playing with guys like Markus Kennedy..
Yeah, I mean he’s going to Villanova and he’s a top recruit and a postgraduate who’s great to practice against in the post.
And JaKarr Sampson.
Oh, yeah, well, he’s my roommate. We’ve got a little thing going on, but..that’s okay (laughs).
What’s your current size?
You were talking before about your improved strength. Have you guys measured or gauged it, in terms of bench press, squats, etc.?
No, we haven’t, but hopefully I can get that in this spring and we can see what I measure out at in, like, squatting, bench pressing, and stuff. We’ve been working out a lot in the weight room, but not really measuring or anything.
Who’s the toughest player you’ve played against?
I’d have to say Markus Kennedy on my team, but, on other teams, I’d probably say Khem Birch.
Yeah, sure, at Notre Dame Prep.
Yeah, he’s really good and tough on both ends.
Which style of play do you prefer, one that’s up-and-down, pushes the pace and looks consistently for fast breaks or one that’s predicated on the half-court game and a generally slower tempo?
Whatever fits me best, but I mean I like to get up and out and go, but I also feel that my strength is a strength and I’d like to have a little more focus and passing to our game.
A little more structure to your game?
Yeah, exactly, a little more structure.
Who will you be turning to for guidance in your college decision?
Coach Drumm (of SYF) and my parents.
Back to academics for a second, you mentioned in the past and earlier today that you went up to Brewster to work on your grades.
Yeah, in fact, they were really the whole reason that I first went up there. I’ve been able to earn As and Bs and so now that’s all good, but I keep working and concentrating on them.
I heard that you now made the honor roll in the first semester.
Yeah, I did.
Thanks, man, I appreciate that.
What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses at this point?
Sure, my weaknesses are probably my three-point shot and, like, my eighteen footer. It’s just not as good as it once was. I mean my strengths are probably really running the court pretty well, rebounding and controlling the ball, and lastly my post play, which I’m sorry you couldn’t see today.
No, please, I’ve seen you quite a bit at Brewster. You were fine tonight and impressed the hell out of these guys that haven’t seen you in six or seven months. What are some of the differences between what’s asked of you at Brewster and your responsibilities with SYF?
Well, next year at Brewster, I’m going to be the captain. So, I actually, both here and there, am going to be the leader of the team.
With SYF particularly, I’ve noticed you’re a lot more vocal this year than in the past.
Yeah, definitely, going to Brewster has helped a lot in terms of making me realize the need to be more vocal and demonstrate leadership. I feel like I’m the heart and soul of this team and I need to pump these guys up and keep them motivated for each game that we go out there. That’s how it was at Brewster and so it translates. At some of the Brewster games, I was pretty crazy. I tried to pump up that team and get them hyped and that’s how it was.
Yeah, I know. I saw you and Max (Hooper of Harvard) and Deonte (Burton, a highly thought of 2013 prospect) hyping those guys up and supporting them loudly when you weren’t out there competing on the court.
Yep, yep, absolutely. We were all there for each other. Doing whatever would help to get the win.
You briefly touched on this before, but how do you feel that it’s helped prepare you for college? What would you say to another young man who’s considering heading up there?
It’s pretty much college up there in terms of competition. I mean I feel like sometimes like I’m playing with and against college people. There’s a sense of pressure and competition and intensity to win. The level of intensity and competition, like I said, is pretty much college.
Game in and game out, you’re playing against multiple D-I players.
Yeah, absolutely, and I mean we played 34 games against that level of competition. We could’ve played as many as 40 games, if we won all of our games, but, unfortunately, yeah..
Can you tell the audience a little about Chesterton? The hometown of you and Jim Gaffigan.
Oh, yeah, I was born and raised there. I never met him, (laughs) but I went to pre-school with his niece, I think, or something like that. (laughs)
I was doing my research.
(laughs) Yeah, but I was born and raised in Chesterton…
The Dunes of Indiana.
Yeah, absolutely, I spent every summer on those Indiana dunes. That’s where I go to the beach and stuff like that. The first year I moved out was kind of a big transition. I’m on my own at Brewster. I’m more responsible, you know, living on my own and making my own decisions.
Who do you try to model your game after?
Well, I really like Lamar Odom a lot. We’re both left-handed. I mean I’d like to get my handle and my three-point shot a little better, but he’s like my favorite player and I’d like to learn to play like him, you know, inside and out.
In January, you wrote that your three favorite or “dream schools” were Texas, Duke, and North Carolina. Is that still the case?
I guess now I would say Texas, Arizona, and Florida. I also like Maryland a lot too.
What are you hoping to show college coaches that you’ve improved upon from last summer to this summer?
How much my motor has gotten better and how much better I am at running the floor than last year.
So, a game like this would’ve been a good example of what you’re trying to demonstrate.
Yeah, I tried to show how well I can rebound the ball, especially offensively, and how I’m very vocal. That’s one of the focal points for colleges is to be vocal and call out commands or ways that you can help your teammates. I try to always be talkative and be helpful on defense. That’s one thing that I feel I do really well.
Is Duke recruiting you? Forgive me, but I couldn’t quite fully hear your answer to the first question with the buzzers going off. Did you mention them?
Oh, yes, I spoke with Coach Nate James and I spoke with Coach Collins a couple of times. Right now, I think they probably have low interest, but I think that they’re coming up Monday to Brewster.
To your open gym.
Yes, to my open gym.
And what do you know about them?
It’s always been everybody’s favorite. Duke’s always been a powerhouse of a program and a school.
Do you know the Plumlees?
No, I do not know them personally, but I definitely know of them. They’re from Warsaw, Indiana, but I’m definitely big fans of theirs. I just know of them and that they’ve done well at Duke.
What’a something that you learned about yourself or something new that you found out that you could do this year at Brewster?
Just living on my own. I’ve always had my mom do things and I was always a big mama’s boy.
(Reggie Rankin, former coach and current scout for ESPN chimes in with, “Nothing wrong with that.”)
I always listen to my moms.
You get cell phone service up there? I know that’s an issue at some other schools.
Yeah, I’ve got my own cell and it’s still technically in the US. So, I guess I still get free minutes.
In terms of position, what would like to play, the four or the five?
I guess the four, but next year I’ll be playing the five more often, I think, because I’ll be the biggest one on the team. I guess I’ll be inside banging up on people.
You’ve gone from being a big that can face up, at times, and liked to step out and shoot the three to a really aggressive , physical 4/5, who can do the rough, nasty stuff around the basket. You’re not afraid to collide or throw an occasional elbow if it means securing a rebound. Is that a result of you working on your body or simply a matter of doing what’s necessary for the team to succeed?
Yeah, I knew I had to get a lot stronger and I’ve just been in the weight room a lot more. My shooting has been affected by that. I’ve just got to keep working on that and hopefully it’ll eventually get back.
In terms of rebounding, what do you think are the keys to being a good rebounder and advice that you’d give to younger players?
Mainly, I think you need to get good positioning. I think you need to be aware at all times and especially be conscious of a shot going up. Learn to read the ball coming off the rim. If you watch it, you’ll learn patterns. Just get after it and either hopefully start the break or put it back up if you’re on offense.
Do you feel you’ve improved in this area?
Yeah, probably. I’ve gotten stronger, which helps, and I think I’ve learned how to watch the game a little better.
Without insulting you in any way, have you cut down on your body-fat? I mean it looks like you have.
Oh, yeah, I’ve cut down a lot. I’ve pretty much been working on that everyday. Eating right, getting healthier, working on conditioning, cutting down on the fat, and just gaining muscle
What do you think of the weight room up there?
It’s pretty nice. I mean it’s top of the line stuff.
It’s almost like a small college’s facilities.
Yeah, pretty much. I mean it’s nice and we’ve got a personal trainer, who helps us out. There’s like an assistant coach who is also a personal trainer so he helps us out up there.
Lastly, what would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
Just that I’m a real outgoing guy. I’m happy to talk to anyone. I’ll talk about recruiting or whatever they’d like to talk about. I’m really open to anything. At the first day of school, I made, like, two hundred friends. I was really friends with everybody. Next year, a bunch of teachers want me to go for class president.
Are you gonna run?
(laughs) I’m thinking about it, but I’m not sure. They said I’d be good at it and so I think I might.
Thanks very much for your time and I’m sure I’ll see you around.
Thank you. No problem.
Last day questions:
How do you feel you played in this tournament?
Not as good as I did in the last tournament (NY2LA Tournament). I think I’d say, right now, my reputation is ahead of my game. I’ve just got to forget about all of that stuff and just stick to playing, stick to helping my team, and just winning tournaments. We’ve got a chance to win a silver bracket still and so I’m going to try to help us achieve that.
That’s something to strive for. You’re a competitor.
Yeah, you’re right. It’s something to strive for. We’ve got to win the silver bracket, I guess, before we can win the gold. (laughs)
The first two tournaments have been, well they’ve been okay.
When’s your next tournament, by the way?
I think we’re going to the Jayhawk Invitational.
And then, over the summer, do you go to Orlando or Vegas, do you know?
I think we’re going to Orlando. Yeah, I think we’re going to the New York to LA (a Milwaukee area tournament) in July and then to Orlando, but I’m not totally sure. I’m not totally positive on that one yet, man.
Alright, man. [/private]