(AP) – 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 averaged 16.2 points and 8.9 rebounds in two seasons and was a back-to-back NJCAA first-team All-American.
McKay returned home to spend his final two seasons at Marquette but 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.
Despite McKay’s gaudy offensive numbers in junior college, the Cyclones won’t necessarily be looking for him to score.
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 with all five starters averaging in double figures.
Iowa State, coming off an 88-78 win over Southern on Sunday, is hoping 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, who averages a team-best 17.8 points, and Dustin Hogue.
Saturday seems to be an opportune time to ease him into the rotation, though, as Drake shouldn’t pose too many problems.
Off to their worst start since going 2-26 in 1996-97, the Bulldogs averaged 54.8 points during a five-game losing streak before beating Jackson State 76-66 on Monday.
“We talked about perseverance and we got a young group that takes baby steps,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said. “We’re going to continue to grow.”
Taking another step forward could be difficult for the Bulldogs, one of the nation’s lowest-scoring teams, as they try to keep pace with the uptempo Cyclones. Drake leading scorer Gary Ricks Jr. averages 11.7 points, just slightly more than Iowa State’s lowest-scoring starter Monte Morris at 11.2.
“Not very many times in life do you get a free swing. We’ve got nothing to lose,” Giacoletti said. “The one thing I want to see us get out of Saturday is that we’re in control. I don’t want to see them dictate to us.”
The schools haven’t met since Iowa State beat Drake 86-77 in 2012 at Des Moines, its third win the last four meetings.