NWI teammates not surprised to see Mitch McGary come up big in NCAA tourney
BY HERB GOULD Sun-Times Media April 5, 2013 11:40PM
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 05: Mitch McGary #4 of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during practice prior to the NCAA Men's Final Four at the Georgia Dome on April 5, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Updated: May 7, 2013 6:18AM
ATLANTA — Picture an agile but oversized paperboy wheeling down a Chesterton street on a unicycle.
It’s not easy to imagine — or easy to do.
‘‘I had a little sack of newspapers on my shoulder,’’ Mitch McGary said. ‘‘Like 80-something papers. Rode the unicycle, stopped at every mailbox. Held myself up. Put the newspaper in.’’
The hard part, McGary said, was learning to ride the unicycle, not deliver papers on it.
‘‘I fell on my face plenty of times,’’ he said in the Michigan locker room Friday. ‘‘Busted my knees, my elbows, my hands. But it was all worth it — finally achieving that goal of being able to ride on a unicycle. I thought it was cool to do something unique.’’
For his next number, the 6-10, 255-pound freshman hopes to help the Wolverines make the most of their first Final Four trip in 20 years.
After starting only twice during the regular season, McGary has started all four of Michigan’s NCAA tournament games — and has been a whirlwind. Against a dangerous VCU, McGary delivered career highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds. In the next game, he outdid himself with 25 points and 14 rebounds in a tough matchup with Kansas.
McGary is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the tournament, topping Michigan in both categories. Not bad for a guy who has lost 20 pounds this season and been dedicated to making his free spirit a plus, not a minus, when it comes to basketball.
‘‘He gives us a great deal of energy,’’ coach John Beilein said. ‘‘The game has really slowed down for him. His ceiling is so high.”
Also enjoying this ride are McGary’s two Northwest Indiana pals, fellow freshman starter and Lake Central grad Glenn Robinson III and unheralded freshman guard Spike Albrecht, who’s logging 11 minutes a game.
‘‘It’s really cool,’’ said Albrecht, from Crown Point. ‘‘We were (AAU) teammates. We’re really good friends. To be able to share this experience with them, it’s surreal.’’
What has gotten into McGary this March?
‘‘I honestly don’t know,’’ Albrecht said. ‘‘He’s had it in him all year. I’m just happy he’s doing it now. He’s been the key to the success on this late run. His confidence is high right now. We all trust him to make the right play.’’
McGary’s hot hand will be tested by Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. The focus will be on Michigan’s outside shooting, but if McGary can dish and score a bit in the paint, shooters such as Nik Stauskas will have more room.
‘‘It’s going to be a lot of team effort instead of one-on-one,’’ McGary said. ‘‘If we do a great job of penetrating to the lane, it’ll be easy shots — and hopefully we’ll knock them down.’’
Albrecht, who’s shooting 71 percent (5-for-7, including 3-for-3 on three-point shots) in NCAA games, is one of those shooters. Robinson, who’s shooting 62 percent (23-for-37), is another.
The three pals didn’t go to Ann Arbor as a package. First, Robinson committed. Then McGary. And then Beilein decided to offer Albrecht.
‘‘We kind of joked about it (in high school),’’ Robinson said. ‘‘We didn’t necessarily plan it, but it’s been a great fit for us.’’
Ask Robinson about McGary as a person, though, and that’s when the son of the Purdue legend really lights up.
‘‘That’s my roommate,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘On the road, at home, ever since AAU. Mitch is a crazy guy, a very funny guy. I love him to death.’’
McGary feels the same way.
‘‘We’re all three best friends,’’ he said, ‘‘all grew up in the same area, all played in the same high school conference. It’s kind of like a homecoming, just like AAU ball, to be on the same team in college.’’
The only thing they don’t share is a love of unicycles. McGary hasn’t asked Robinson to try riding one.
‘‘Not yet,’’ GR3 said. ‘‘I hope he doesn’t, either.’’