No. 13 Iowa State adds center McKay to roster after long wait
College basketball fans have waited nearly two years to see Jameel McKay play.
On Saturday, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg will finally unveil the first true rim protector of his five-year tenure.
McKay's 665-day wait between competitive games will end when the 13th-ranked Cyclones (8-1) face Drake (2-8) on a neutral floor in Des Moines. Though McKay won't start against the Bulldogs, Hoiberg expects the 6-foot-9 center with the 7-foot-4 wingspan to have an immediate impact - especially on defense.
''He's itching to get out there. He's in (the Iowa State practice facility) two, three times a day. Every time I look out my window, he's out there on the floor preparing himself for this moment,'' Hoiberg said.
Of all the transfers who've come to play for Hoiberg, few had a more interesting journey to Ames than McKay.
McKay grew up in Milwaukee and was the city league's player of the year in 2011. He began his college career at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, a two-hour drive from Iowa State, and quickly turned himself into one of the nation's most sought-after recruits. McKay scored 1,022 points in just two seasons, surpassing double figures 59 times in 63 games, along with 8.9 rebounds a game. McKay was also the first Indian Hills player to be named a back-to-back NJCAA first-team All-American, an impressive feat given the program's strong national reputation.
McKay then got caught up with the idea of returning home to spend his final two seasons at Marquette. He barely lasted two months with then-coach Buzz Williams.
McKay quit the team less than a month before the 2013-14 season. He finished out the fall semester academically and promptly joined Hoiberg, who has a reputation for turning transfers into stars. McKay, a junior, was forced by the NCAA to sit during the recent fall semester because of the time he spent at Marquette.
''A lot of off the court things,'' McKay said when asked what led him to leave Marquette. ''It's also like, not a good idea to be home for some people because of some of the pressure ... (and there were) a lot of outside distractions. And then just style of play. It didn't fit me.''
Despite McKay's gaudy offensive numbers in junior college, the Cyclones won't necessarily be looking for him to score.
What Hoiberg sees in McKay is an athletic shot blocker who can handle the paint defensively and get Iowa State's standout transition offense going.
Iowa State prefers to attack in transition rather than settle for half-court sets, which is why the Cyclones start running nearly every time they get a defensive stop. It's a sound strategy, as Iowa State is ranked ninth nationally with 84.8 points a game.
Iowa State is hoping that McKay will dissuade opponents from attacking the rim - which has often been the easiest way to get buckets against the Cyclones - and instead settle for jumpers that can lead to long defensive rebounds, quick outlet passes and fast break baskets.
''The biggest thing with Jameel is just his overall energy, the way he can transition down the floor at both ends,'' Hoiberg said. ''He's incredibly athletic.''
Finding minutes for McKay might be a bit of a challenge initially, since Iowa State has found success playing with three guards and forwards Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue.
But if McKay can be as good in Hilton Coliseum as he's been in anonymity, Iowa State's prospects in the Big 12 and beyond will be much brighter.
''The biggest thing with this process is just patience. I know I'm not going to be the player that I can be later in the season in the first game back,'' McKay said. ''Through the season I expect to be an impact player.''