Mitch McGary stepped onto campus a larger than life force, the crown jewel of Michigan's already strong 2012 recruiting class. His decision to attend Michigan was a coup unlike any Michigan basketball has seen vs. the bluebloods in the last decade.
Despite his immense talent and limitless energy, Mitch;s career at Michigan was never able to find stable footing. He battled injuries and spent much of his first season playing his way back into shape. When he put everything together he was a brilliant two way player, a force of nature that sucked rebounds and loose balls in like a tornado, and moved down the court with the same speed and destructive power. But it never lasted, and in the end when it finally looked like it would be his team for one more year, he declared for the NBA draft with his back against the wall after facing the prospect of a full year suspension.
Ultimately Mitch's place in Michigan lore is as much about what he was never able to do because of circumnstance as it is his brilliant run in the NCAA tournament two years ago. Of course, the NBA draft isn't driven by nostalgia, and that places Mitch in a precarious position going forward.
McGary grew up in Chesterton Indiana, not all that far from future Michigan teammate Glenn Robinson III. His athleticism and size were apparent early on and Mitch was a baseball and football player as well as basketball. However, he would eventually outgrow both sports, getting up to 6'10. Academically, Mitch struggled due to ADHD, and he would finish out his high school career at Brewster Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire that also happened to have an impressive basketball team that featured other future D-1 players.
Mitch's size and athletic ability put him on the map as a recruit early, but it wasn't until late in his prep career that his recruitment really blew up. Michigan had offered him earlier, thanks to a familiarity with Mitch's hometown (Zack Novak was also from Chesterton, IN) as well as his AAU squad, and that early interest would benefit Michigan as some of college basketball's best got into the running.
Over the course of 2011, Mitch took the next step in the recruiting rankings, pushing himself from a top-100 type player into the top-10 nationally. As this happened, his recruiting exploded, with teams like Duke, Kentucky, Florida, and North Carolina — all of which made his top group, along with Michigan — entering the mix.
By November of 2011, Mitch was ready to make his decision. Michigan, Florida, and Duke were his top three, and rumors swirled that Duke was the favorite of his parents, while his AAU coach liked Michigan. On November 3rd, Mitch announced his decision to attend Michigan, and said some rather prophetic words:
"I'd like to bring a National Championship to Michigan next year"
Michigan now had its crown jewel for 2012. McGary's ranking would slip from where it was when he signed (#2 nationally), but he would remain a top-30 player nationally.
Despite the hype surrounding his recruitment, Mitch's freshman season got off to an inauspicious start due to the lingering effects of a leg injury he had suffered the winter before. Mitch got time on the court, but he played less that 20 minutes in each game all through November and December of 2012. Part of this was due to his conditioning — he started the year overweight and needed to slim down to play at his most effective level — but another issue was foul trouble. Despite playing less than 20 minutes per game over those first 13 games, he had as many games when he committed four fouls as he did one foul (four games each) and only avoided fouling altogether in a lopsided game vs. Binghamton.
Of course, the foul trouble and lack of conditioning couldn't obscure Mitch's physical talent for rebounding. He had five or more rebounds in all but four of those first 13 games and 9 or more in four of them. He also scored in double digits twice in that span and was not held scoreless once. He was already proving to be a big difference maker in a position of need for Michigan, albeit in limited time.
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As January rolled around and Big Ten play started, Mitch established himself as a 20 minute per game option at center and continued to add the same things: rebounding with a few baskets on putback and finished passes from other players. Fouls continued to be an issue. In five of eight games that month Mitch had three or more fouls.
February turned into an up and down month for Mitch. By this point he was routinely getting 25-30 minutes per game and doing a lot with it (double digit point totals against Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin to start the month), but his production fell off by the end of the month which relegated him back to the bench after he had earned a couple starts.
By the beginning of March Michigan was reeling, having lost five Big Ten games including a late February upset to Penn State. Two more losses before the NCAA tournament put a further damper on Michigan's season after a hot start. Of course, that is when Mitch did his best to make good on his promise from when he committed.
Prior to the NCAA tournament,, Mitch had started just two games for Michigan. He had also played over 30 minutes just once. In the NCAA tournament he did this:
- vs. SDSU: 13 pts (6/9 2pt), 9 rebs (3 OR), 2 stl, 1 blk, 2 pf
- vs. VCU: 21 pts (10/11 2pt), 14 rebs (4 OR), 1 ast, 1 stl, 1 pf
- vs. Kansas: 25 pts (12/17 2pt), 14 rebs (5 OR), 1 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk, 2 pf
- vs. Florida: 11 pts (5/8 2pt), 9 rebs (2 OR), 5 stl, 2 blk, 4 pf
- vs. Syracuse: 10 pts (4/8 2pt), 12 rebs (5 OR), 6 ast, 2 blks, 4 pf
- vs. Louisville: 6 pts (3/6 2pt), 6 rebs (2 OR), 1 ast, 1 blk, 1 stl, 4 pf
Those are all-American caliber numbers against some very good competition. McGary was clearly too big, strong and talented for VCU to handle, he outplayed Kansas's Jeff Withey inside and helped carry the team while Trey Burke got going, he helped abuse Florida's overmatched front line, and was the offensive catalyst Michigan relied upon to pick apart Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
Foul trouble was an issue (again), but that was to be expected. What wasn't to be expected (at least rationally expected) was that Mitch McGary, somewhat inconsistent backup all season for Michigan would easily step into the starting role and largely dominate over a six game stretch against four teams that all ended the year ranked in Kenpom's top ten (VCU ended the year 20th).
After a season spent getting healthy and in shape, Mitch finally looked like the one-time 2nd overall player in the 2012 recruiting class. With Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. leaving for the NBA, it would soon be Mitch's team, and after that tournament run where Michigan was just a little short of winning a national title thanks to McGary's stellar play, it seemed like he would be up to the task.
The offseason came with both good and bad news. Mitch was widely considered a pre-season all-American going into his sophomore year and impressed in summer workouts. However, in fall practices he developed a "lower back condition" which limited his ability to practice. Anyone with back problems knows how serious they can be and how long they can linger. But the coaches asserted that Mitch would make it back in time for Big Ten play at least.
It ended up being even sooner than that. Mitch returned for the third game of the season against Iowa State. In 22 minutes McGary scored 9 points, grabbed six rebounds and added four steals. Michigan would end up losing that game, as well as three more over the next seven games. There were high points for Mitch, such as scoring 15 and grabbing 14 rebounds against Duke when he and Caris LeVert were about the only two Michigan players to show up in Cameron. The low points were there as well, like when Mitch only managed six points in Michigan's close loss to Charlotte.
His final appearance was against Arizona, a quiet game for him where he scored 8, pulled down 4 rebounds, and once again dealt with foul trouble (3). It was announced shortly thereafter that Mitch would sit for the rest of the season so that he could have back surgery. Michigan would have to wait another year to see a fully healthy Mitch McGary over the course of the season. Or so we thought.
Things looked dark for Michigan at that point. The Wolverines were 6-4 and no longer even a fringe top-25 team. Without Mitch McGary it seemed possible that the Wolverines might not even make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Of course, we all know how that ended. Michigan would win its next ten games in a row including a stretch of three against top-10 teams, vault its way back into the top-25, and proceed to win the Big Ten by a three game margin before coming within a long three point shot of a return trip to the Final Four.
All John Beilein everything.
Mitch McGary's college resume either consists of about one full season's worth of games, or really just six depending on how generous you want to be. It was obvious in 2013 that the Mitch we saw in the NCAA tournament wasn't the same guy from the beginning of the year. And while he looked good at points the next season, eight games dealing with a back injury aren't the best barometer for a college player's draft stock. Still, there are things about his game that stand out.
- Rebounding. This is the obvious place to start in any discussion of Mitch McGary. As a freshman in limited time his rebounding numbers were stellar. He posted a 22.4 DR% which was the 86th best in the nation as well as a 16.0 OR% which was 10th. Keep in mind that Mitch spent most of the season playing his way into shape a la Shaq in his Lakers years. In eight games as a sophomore he set an even more impressive pace, keeping his OR% stable (15.5) and pushing his DR% up to 27.1. Rebounding never was an issue for Mitch.
- Igniting the break. Impressive rebounding is great to have, but the ability to turn that into points the other way is a huge boost to an offense. Michigan has not been an up tempo team over the last two years, preferring to pick and choose its spots to push pace. Having Mitch as the primary rebounder on defense opened up more opportunities for Michigan to push pace because Mitch was so good at outlet passes. This is no small feat. Battling for a rebound then immediately doing a 180, surveying the court, and making the appropriate pass within a beat or two is very difficult and can lead to bad turnovers and easy baskets the other way. Mitch was very good at this. And when he wasn't passing out himself, sometimes he chose to push the ball up the court on his own. He was good enough to do it too. Outlet passing is the cherry on top of a good rebounding forward (see: Love, Kevin). Mitch McGary is a good outlet passer.
- Defense. Yes, Mitch has a tendency to foul more often than he should, and his post defense and help defense need some work to get that foul trouble under control. However, his active defense in other areas was superb. Mitch was adept at forcing steals on the high post and getting a hand on entry passes. Both situations often led to a fast break the other way, usually with Mitch leading the way. Steals are big deals, and Mitch boasted very good steal and block rates (3.4, 3.9) as a freshman. The steal numbers actually jumped to 4.8 last year, although small sample sizes abound.
- High post offense. Mitch didn't flash much of a back-to-the-basket game while at Michigan, which could be a function of his ability or the offense in which he played (or, likely both). However, he was able to play a little farther out from the basket at times and showed the ability to hit mid range jumpers. There is also the Syracuse game, in which Mitch was tasked with facilitating the offense and attacking the heart of the Syracuse defense. That kind of offensive versatility makes up for a lot of his shortfalls as a traditional big man.
- Health. Obvious red flag is obvious. In two years at Michigan Mitch dealt with the lingering effects of a lower leg injury and then a back injury. The back injury is especially scary because A) if your back in jacked you really can't do anything (I should know, I'm laid up on the couch on day two of horrible back pain. Stupid aging process). And these problems don't easily get treated or go away. A lot of it is rest and avoiding the things that cause the pain. Basketball, being a contact sport, really isn't great for your back.
- Post up game. I'm sure Mitch posted up once or twice in his time at Michigan. I just can't remember any of those occasions. Again, this could be as much (or more) a function of the offense he was playing in as it was his ability, but NBA scouts are likely going to want to see some sort of traditional post game. His time at Michigan didn't answer any of these questions.
- Free Throw Shooting. Even when it was good (last year he shot 66% on 24 attempts) it was bad, and that was in a ridiculously small sample size. Mitch never even looked comfortable at the free throw line, much less capable of becoming a solid free throw shooter. He would occasionally hit a couple shots under pressure, but too often fouling Mitch was an effective way to mitigate the damage he could do on offense.
- Fouls. Mitch did it to much. His FC/40 numbers were remarkably consistent over his two years: 4.8 in year one, 5.0 in year two. If you're averaging five fouls per forty minutes, foul trouble is going to be a constant concern.
Where Will He End Up?
I know this is a bit of a cop out for a draft profile that I'm writing, but let's be honest, there are a few factors that could put McGary anywhere from a mid first round pick to a late second rounder:
- He has just over one season of experience at the college level, and the majority of that time was him playing his way back from two separate injuries.
- When he was in full game shape he looked like a potential all-American.
- Granted, that was only six games.
- His injury history isn't great for a big man. Leg injuries and back injuries are the things career enders are made of.
- This goes double for Mitch because so much of his game is based on playing at 100 mph.
- The weed thing.
NBAdraft.net has him 46th on the big board and 32nd in the mock draft. Draft express ranks him 24th but has him going 30th. Late first round/early second is a pretty good guess, as Mitch's upside is a lottery pick type player and his downside is an injury wash out.
BT Powerhouse has a couple possible destinations laid out for Mitch, but as you get into the second round so much depends on who is left, who is picking, and where teams think they can make up value.
As Mitch's time at Michigan showed, he could be a tremendous value pick or a tantalizing ball of hype and energy that never quite lives up to its potential for one reason or another.
Here's wishing Mitch the best. Of all Michigan's early entries this year, he was the one we knew least, but he could have quite possibly been the best had things happened another way.
Update: Who has two thumbs and was wrong: this guy. Apparently Charlotte has promised to take McGary at 24 if he is still available. With that he goes from the least certain draft candidate to the most. This also makes it more likely that Michigan gets three in the first round, depending on GRIII's destination. That would be five first round picks in two years.
All Beilein everything.