'The story isn't finished': Former McDonald's All-American Brandon McCoy looks to revive his career overseas | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / September 26.
  • ‘The story isn’t finished’: Former McDonald’s All-American Brandon McCoy looks to revive his career overseas

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    By JACOB POLACHECK

    Brandon McCoy’s story isn’t finished yet. The former McDonald’s All-American has spent the last three years bouncing from the NBA G League to overseas and back. Now at 23 years old, McCoy is set to once again return to overseas basketball, this time playing for the Belgian professional team Filou Oostende with hopes to make it back to the NBA for good. 

    “The story isn’t finished,” McCoy said. “There’s more and more chapters. I’m still young and still pushing. I’m enjoying the process, to be honest.” 

    Still, some are ready to close the book on McCoy. With concerns about his defensive skillset and his ability to guard the pick-and-roll, McCoy has become largely a forgotten name among a high school class that featured names like Deandre Ayton, Trae Young, Collin Sexton, Wendell Carter Jr., Mitchell Robinson and Mohamed Bamba.

    Growing up in Chicago, McCoy started his athletic pursuits as a boxer, but when he moved to San Diego prior to high school, he was introduced to the game of basketball and never looked back. He can still remember playing pickup with his friends at the playground of recess and using the monkey bars as hoops. 

    “It was a hard transition because I loved boxing so much,” McCoy said. “But once I started to get better at the game, I started to love it more. I don’t know. I just feel like the game of basketball was meant for me.” 

    By the time McCoy started his career at Morse High School in San Diego, CA in 2013, he stood at 6-foot-8 with the potential to be a very-skilled offensive player. 

    Aaron Burgin, also known as “Full Time Hoops”, has been covering high school basketball in San Diego since 2011, and was one of the first scouts to cover McCoy’s career from an early age. 

    In what was perhaps McCoy’s first display of his NBA-caliber talent, the 7-foot freshman finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in a 63-57 win over San Marcos High School for the 2014 CIF San Diego Section Division 1 Finals. 

    “That was the first game where I looked and I said, ‘you know what, I don’t know where he’s ranked in his respective class, but if it’s not in the Top-100, it’s too low,” Burgin said. 

    Brandon’s mother, Charice Davis, said she first saw Brandon’s passion for basketball fully encapsulated in that championship game his freshman year, noticing his raw emotion.

    “I could see it on his face,” she said. “I could feel everything. At that moment, that passion was really realized.” 

    McCoy carried the success of his debut high school season into his sophomore year, posting massive numbers, while leading Morse to a 26-7 overall record. McCoy finished the season with averages of 19.7 points, 18.3 rebounds and 6.6 blocks per game, exceeding the lofty expectations set by his stellar freshman season.

    Yet, it was his junior season, with his name finally on the radar of national scouts, that McCoy truly ascended. And when he made the move from Morse to Cathedral Catholic High School, just 25 miles away, McCoy became more than just a standout local prospect, rising to the No. 17 overall spot in ESPN’s class of 2017 rankings. 

    “He had a really good end to his sophomore year at Morse, but it was that junior year where he started to really put it together,” Burgin said. “There’s not one performance that really stands out, but it was like when he put on that jersey and he was surrounded by a really good complementary cast, his game really seemed to take off.”

    As a junior, McCoy averaged 21.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, as college programs began to vye for his commitment. Midway through his junior season, McCoy already held offers from some of college basketball’s top schools including Michigan State, Arizona, Kansas and UCLA. 

    Despite his overwhelming success with his high school program, many of McCoy’s flaws were exposed on the AAU Circuit, playing for the Cal Supreme alongside future No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton in the Nike EYBL. 

    “Defensively, he always struggled in the pick-and-roll,” Burgin said.”Obviously, that’s not a big deal when you’re in San Diego and there’s not too many guys of equal size. It was something that, on the AAU circuit you noticed and then obviously when he went to college at UNLV, that was something that he really couldn’t hide.” 

    Yet, McCoy’s overwhelming size and skill helped vault him into elite status as the game slowed down for him. After averaging 28 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocks as a senior, McCoy earned invites to the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. 

    “I think about it all the time,” McCoy said. “It’s like, man, I can’t believe I did all of that.” 

    Looking back at his high school career, Burgin says McCoy was one of the city’s best high school players over the last decade, sitting among the likes of Norman Powell, T.J. Leaf, Jaylen Hands and Boogie Ellis

    “I think we kind of forget Brandon because of the epilogue,” Burgin said. “When we talk strictly based on his high school career, in the last 10 years, he was one of the best to do it.” 

    And when it came time for McCoy to take the next step in his basketball journey, he surprised many by choosing to attend UNLV over some of college basketball’s most storied programs. 

    McCoy had flashes of brilliance at UNLV, including a 33-point, 10-rebound performance against future No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton. He finished his freshman season averaging a team-high 16.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game and being named Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year. 

    “The whole experience, the basketball experience, I feel like I got all that I could out of UNLV in regards to just the game,” he said. “I was able to perform at a high-level. I was able to get better. Everything just works out the way it works out.” 

    However, concerns still lingered about his defensive versatility. After declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft, McCoy worked out for nearly 20 teams, but ultimately went undrafted. 

    “Thinking back on the whole decision, I felt like it was the best decision I could’ve made,” McCoy said on forgoing his remaining three years of eligibility. “”I honestly feel like the knowledge I know of the game I wasn’t really going to learn in college. I feel like my game has really taken a big step because of my decision and my whole mindset. I feel like I’ve matured way more, I’ve grown way more, mentally and physically. I don’t feel like I would’ve been able to do that at UNLV.” 

    McCoy was eventually signed by the Milwaukee Bucks as part of their summer league team in 2018, getting his chance to play alongside NBA All Stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. It was with the Bucks that McCoy recognized the difference between the college game and the pros. 

    “I remember just how focused everybody was, how particular everyone was and how everybody approached it so seriously,” he said. I always played the game, but I played it for fun. I didn’t really think of the game so seriously.” 

    McCoy specifically remembers seeing Lopez dripping sweat at 7:30 a.m., more than an hour before the team was set to practice. 

    “My coming to the NBA moment was just the whole environment, how everything was run and how high-level everything was,” he said. “You’ve got guys signing for $100 million they’re the first people in the gym.” 

    Seeing the way professionals approached the game was a real eye-opener for McCoy. After being bounced from the Bucks to the Pelicans and back to the Bucks, McCoy began the 2018 season as a member of the Bucks’ G League team, the Wisconsin Herd. 

    In his two seasons with the Herd, McCoy was never able to fully match the sky-high expectations placed on him as a high schooler, averaging 7.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game before being waived on February 19, 2020. 

    “The NBA professional game is a completely different ball game in regards to college,” McCoy said.  “I just felt like my IQ grew, my mentality just got better. I’ve always been a hard worker. When I became a professional, I learned things that I could work on more to help myself get better and put myself in better positions on the court.” 

    McCoy spent the next six months at home, training for his next opportunity in professional basketball before his first overseas offer came. In January of 2021, McCoy signed with Zlatiobor of the Basketball League of Serbia. 

    The move overseas was a tremendous adjustment for McCoy, playing for a coach that didn’t speak English and having to learn Serbian on the fly. 

    “It was definitely something I had to get used to, just being the only American on the team and having to decipher and learn the language,” McCoy said. “That was also a blessing because I ended up learning a lot about the culture there, learning the language and meeting a lot of new people. I still talk to those guys even though I’m not a part of that team because those guys are really good people. They made sure that I was comfortable, made sure I had everything that I needed.”  

    It was his time in Serbia where McCoy learned how to adapt to uncomfortable situations. With experiences ranging across the globe, McCoy has developed a tremendous ability to move beyond mistakes and hold his head high. 

    “The experiences I’ve been through, it’s changed my mindset for the good,” he said. “I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m comfortable being by myself. I’m comfortable wherever I’m at. I’m comfortable.” 

    After several months with Zlatibor, McCoy made the move to Puerto Rico, signing with Caciques de Humacao of the Baloncesto Superior Nacional League, being forced to spend more time away from his family and gaining a new sense of mental toughness. 

    McCoy was even further impressed by the level of basketball IQ overseas, where his athleticism could only take him so far, learning how to embrace his size and impacting the game outside of scoring. 

    When he returned to the United States this summer to play for the Miami Heat’s summer league team, McCoy seemed like a new man. 

    McCoy joined the Heat’s summer league team at the last minute. With just hours before tip off of his first summer league game, a Heat coach asked him if he was nervous. 

    “No, not at all,” McCoy said. “They already counted me out. What is there left to lose?” 

    With that mentality, McCoy had, what was in his opinion, his best summer league to date, with a carefree mentality and a professional attitude. 

    “I’m comfortable being by myself,” he said. “I’m comfortable wherever I’m at.” 

    Now, as McCoy plans to take his next step overseas, chances are running out for him to earn a permanent spot on an NBA roster. With the evolution of the center role in the NBA, his defensive skill set has always prevented him from carving out a role within the league, but there are still those that are hoping to see him shine. 

    “I still think he has the potential to help an NBA team out,” Burgin said. 

    And for McCoy, he wants the world to know he’s not finished yet. 

    “I’m proud of how far I’ve come, how resilient I am,” he said. “It’s been a tough journey, but it’s my journey and I embrace it.”

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