#TGW: A Sponge with a Stroke
Graduate transfer McCormick continues to soak up knowledge on and off the court
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- As Kellen McCormick did his thing Wednesday night, some Georgia Tech fans might have been surprised while he scored all 12 of his points on 3-pointers in the second half as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat North Carolina A&T.
The former Western Michigan sub scored five points – total – in Tech’s first 11 games, after all, so it would’ve been easy to ask: Where’d that come from?
This is what the 6-foot-7 forward does.
In three years playing for the Broncos, 102 of his 144 made field goals – or 71 percent -- were 3-pointers. Building his game from an early age, when he spent time at many camps runs by his father, former NBA player Tim McCormick, as “a sponge,” Kellen has fashioned quite a stroke.
“It is what I do,” he said Thursday, before the Jackets (8-4) began practicing for Saturday’s noon ACC opener against No. 9/10 North Carolina (12-2) in McCamish Pavilion. “I know my role, and it’s to go in and knock down shots, so [Wednesday] night I got my opportunity.
“Coach called my number, and did what I’ve done the last three years.”
Tech struggled in its final game before conference play, building a 26-23 halftime lead over the Aggies. They made their last four shots of the half, but that hardly masked the fact that they missed 20 of their first 23.
McCormick played three minutes in the first half, gathered a rebound and a steal, and did not shoot.
When he subbed in with 14:16 left in the game, Tech trailed 32-28. The Aggies had just run off seven consecutive points.
Head coach Josh Pastner made 17 player substitutions after that; not once did McCormick leave the floor. After playing 26 minutes in seven of the Jackets’ first 11 games, he played the final 14:16 and made 4-of-5 shots from beyond the arc and added an assist.
McCormick didn’t take the Aggies or anything for granted.
“Kellen McCormick saved us tonight, bottom line,” Pastner said. “I told our team we should all just give him a big kiss on the cheek because he flat out saved us tonight, single-handedly, with his shooting.”
It took the Jackets 10 minutes to forge a tie, that coming when Tadric Jackson’s trey knotted the score at 45 with 4:13 left, and Quinton Stephens gave Tech the lead for good when his jumper made it 47-45 at the 3:34 mark.
The Aggies, though, were diligent and whittled a five-point deficit to one only to watch McCormick drain his final long ball for a 53-49 lead at 1:29.
Given his history, that wasn’t a shock.
When a guy shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc in three seasons in the MAC, including 45.8 percent last season (49-of-107) while averaging 6.0 points and 1.9 rebounds, there’s a template.
McCormick scored a career-high 31 points last season against Rochester College, making nine treys. He hit at least one long ball in 22 of 32 games, and 13 times hit more than one even though he averaged a modest 14.8 minutes per contest.
Knowing his history helps explain Wednesday night. There’s room to be surprised, however, by the shaping of that history.
Basketball is a birthright for McCormick, whose father played at Michigan before being the No. 12 pick of the 1984 NBA draft. He’s a big man, 6-11 in fact, and played eight seasons professionally for Seattle, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Houston, Atlanta and New York chiefly as a center.
Tim McCormick put together a nice career, averaging 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in 483 games, including 210 starts.
No wonder basketball’s important to Kellen, who began playing when, “I was young; as soon as I could walk. I played baseball to middle school, but I got serious about basketball. My dad and I are very close. We spent countless hours working.”
Statistically, Tim McCormick’s best season was his third, when he averaged 12.8 points and 7.5 rebounds while starting 79 games and playing in 81 of 82 for the 76ers in 1986-87. The elder McCormick, whose brother (Kellen’s uncle) Mike played collegiately at Kent State, was a back-to-the-basket guy.
He hoisted 16 3-pointers among his 2,893 NBA shot attempts … and made one.
So, the apple may not have fallen far from the tree as basketball is in Kellen’s blood, but how did it roll all the way out past the 3-point line?
“He was a low-post player, but he does have a good jump shot. He can still shoot the ball,” McCormick said. “It just kind of worked out where I’m a stretch four (power forward), and he’s a back-to-the-basket player ... he definitely constructed my shot.”
Before the season, Pastner suggested that Kellen knows basketball especially well, and his background helps explain why.
His father has worked for the National Basketball Players Association for years, in addition to working as a broadcaster for ESPN, and his son spent a lot of time around many talented players and coaches.
“He wears many hats. He’s a player rep, and he travels around, has a few NBA teams that he sees on a regular basis, and he also runs the NBA’s top 100 camp for the best 100 high school players in the country; he’s the camp director for that,” Kellen said.
“I’ve been to all those camps and around all those trainers, and I’ve kind of been surrounded by a lot of great basketball players. I was a sponge, trying to learn. It was great to be surrounded by so many great basketball minds.”
Upon graduating in four years (including a redshirt season) from Western Michigan with a degree in management, McCormick, 23, wanted to keep playing ball and keep playing the sponge.
So, the two-time all-state high school player from Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac, Mich., near his hometown of West Bloomfield put the word out.
“I had a great experience at Western Michigan, but I wanted a change of scenery,” McCormick recalled. “I wanted to try something new and I thought this was a great opportunity to experience ACC basketball at a high major program, travel and just see all these different places, live in a new city.
“Coach Pastner was one of the coaches who called. I made a visit, loved it and ... committed that day. I took a visit to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and had a few other visits scheduled, but I really liked it here ... The other thing that was huge was academics. A degree from Georgia Tech goes a long way.”
Kellen is probably finished growing, but after making the All-Academic team in the MAC, he’s not done building his pedigree. Studying integrated facility management in the building construction program, he hopes to earn his master’s degree after another full semester and two classes next summer.
“My real interest is business administration. I love the business world, but I wanted this degree to expand my world, to have a more broad view of things, and I thought it would give me a chance to see another side of the business world.
“With this degree, there are a lot of management principles that translate back and forth between management in business and the more specific management of buildings. I’m not sure if I’ll do something more directly with this degree, but there’s no education that’s bad education.”
He’s still learning on the court, too, mindful that Pastner said before the season that for McCormick to get playing time, he has to hit shots. That doesn’t mean he’s not trying to grow his game.
“I would say the biggest thing for me is on the defensive end to try and find a way to be really solid, be in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Some of that comes from the basketball IQ things that coach Pastner was talking about.
“Also, every day I’m trying to improve and become a better rebounder.”
That’d be great, but don’t forget what brought McCormick this far.
He’s made 6-of-7 shots this season, including 5-of-6 treys.
“He’s a great shooter,” Lammers said. “It’s really more about opportunity; he just hasn’t had the shots at the basket.”