Michigan Wolverines forward Mitch McGary during a press conference the day before the championship game of the 2013 Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Former Brewster Academy player McGary turning heads for Michigan
McGary, the 6-foot 10-inch, 250-pound mountain disguised as a basketball player, continued to take no prisoners in the semifinals Saturday night, scoring 10 points, pulling down 12 rebounds and dishing out six assists as Michigan knocked off Syracuse, 61-56.
And he is only a freshman.
McGary enrolled at Michigan after three years of high school ball in Chesterton, Ind., and two preparatory years at Brewster.
Under coach Jason Smith at Brewster a year ago, he earned Parade All-America honors while averaging 12 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 assists and two blocks a game for a team that went 33-1, its only loss coming against Northfield Mount Hermon in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference AAA semifinals.
Brewster went on to beat Hargrave Military Institute of Chatham, Va., for the 2012 national championship but failed to defend its title when it lost to Northfield Mount Hermon last month in this year's final.
Smith got a kick out of Saturday night's game that featured a pair of his former players.
C.J. Fair, a Syracuse junior, helped Brewster to its first national prep championship in 2010 and McGary joined the team the next year.
"We're very, very proud of them," Smith said. "You could make a case that both of them were the MVP of the game for their teams."
Fair led all scorers with 22 points.
McGary's 12 rebounds were twice as many as any other Wolverine and five more than anyone from Syracuse.
"He filled the stat sheet," Smith said. "He only had 10 points and 12 rebounds and six assists, but he seemed to have much more of an impact on the game than that because of his energy and how hard he played."
Smith texted with both Fair and McGary after the game and gave the latter a hard time about one particular statistic.
"Six assists," the coach said. "I was joking with him and told him I didn't know if he had six assists in two years at Brewster."
McGary was placed in the high post against Syracuse's famed two-three zone, and in the first half he shredded it.
He hit two of three shots and scored six points in the first 20 minutes. But just as important were his four assists as the Wolverines built a 36-25 lead by halftime.
McGary also grabbed a game-high seven rebounds in the first half as Michigan compiled a 20-15 edge on the boards.
Syracuse started well in the second half and cut the lead to seven before McGary threw a perfect no-look pass to Tim Hardaway Jr. for a thundering dunk, and the next time down the floor he scored to make the lead 43-32.
But then things went south for McGary as he quickly picked up his second foul. At 12:35 he grabbed a defensive rebound but had it swiped, that led to his third foul, and Fair made two free throws to cut the Michigan lead to six.
McGary went to the bench, but was there for only a couple of minutes, because the Wolverines had no one to rebound with him out of the game.
He was back in the game after four scoreless possessions, rebounded a Hardaway jumper from the free-throw line and passed back to Hardaway, who hit a 3-pointer.
Syracuse stayed within striking distance behind the inspired play of Fair, but McGary hit a clutch jump shot from the high post to give Michigan a 53-45 lead with 3:52 left .
McGary made a rare error when he jumped and threw a bad pass that Syracuse turned into a lay-up to cut the lead to six with 3:10 left to play.
The Wolverines turned the ball over on their next two possessions.
McGary picked up his fourth foul with one minute left when Brandon Triche drove right at him. Triche made two free throws, cutting Michigan's lead to four.
Triche scored on the next possession and was fouled, but he missed the free throw. McGary rebounded it, also was fouled and missed both free throws, but the Wolverines held on for their win.
McGary was 2-for-6 from the foul line for the night. But that's the only thing he didn't do extremely well.
His play during Michigan's run to tonight's title game has opened eyes and has folks talking about him being a possible first-round pick if he chooses to enter the NBA draft.
"I heard from five NBA teams this past week," Smith said. "They're more or less doing background checks in case he does come out. If he waits until 2014, he'll probably be a top 10 pick. I'm sure he'll sit down with his family at the conclusion of the season and determine what's best."
First, the Brewster grad and his Wolverines have one more big game to play.