Jared McCain, the High School Basketball Phenom and Tik Tok Sensation With Dreams of NBA Stardom | 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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Monday / July 15.
  • Jared McCain, the High School Basketball Phenom and Tik Tok Sensation With Dreams of NBA Stardom

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    It’s 5:52 a.m. in Corona, a city of just over 166,000 residents on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Sitting on a desk is a ripped, folded up copy of Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis

    Facing directly ahead sits a yellow piece of paper pinned to the wall, containing a list of goals. Get 10 Division 1 offers. Check. Win Peach Jam. Check. McDonald’s All-American. Unchecked. 

    Since the eighth grade, Jared McCain has referred to this piece of paper, his “dream board”, daily with a Gonzaga logo to the left and a Duke logo to the right. 

    McCain walks into his living room. A pink yoga mat lays on the floor. To his right is a painting image of Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. McCain stands in front of the television and does his morning yoga routine to start his day. 

    He closes his eyes in concentration. Deep breathe in. Deep breathe out. 

    At the end of his morning routine, McCain collects his backpack and gym bag, slips on his rainbow-colored crocs and steps into his mother’s minivan to take his two-hour trek to school. 

    Upon arrival, McCain makes his way into the spacious Corona Centennial High School gym. Sporting a pair of pink Nike shorts, the high-energy, charismatic 17-year-old high school basketball phenom and Tik Tok star rejoins his teammates and puts his skills to the test before meeting up with his trainer Shea Frazee for work later in the day.  

    “He is very compartmentalized as a human being,” Frazee said. “The way he approaches the packaging of stuff off the court and off of Instagram is much more methodical, thoughtful and lowkey than people might think.” 

    When he was just a fresh-faced 15-year-old, eager to start his high school journey, McCain entered into the Corona Centennial basketball program, getting his first introduction to head coach Josh Giles

    Giles, who has served as head coach at Corona Centennial for the past 19 seasons, has seen his fair share of Division 1 prospects, coaching several future college stars. 

    From the moment he first became acquainted with McCain, it was clear that Giles was witnessing something special, a player with exceptional talent, prompting him to make the rare call to move on from three Division 1-caliber seniors to make way for McCain and several of his teammates. 

    “You could tell right away that he was a kid that would be able to play on varsity as a freshman,” Giles said. “To me, it’s more of a mental than a physical thing as a freshman. He was ready. He was ready from day one.” 

    Within weeks, it was starting to look like Giles had made the right choice. McCain was shooting the ball well and showing off his competitive instincts in practice. 

    However, when game action began in the fall of 2019, McCain struggled to find his footing. Through the first four games of his freshman campaign, McCain was shooting below 16% from three-point range, getting a lot of open looks, but was unable to capitalize. 

    “You could just see the stress level,” Giles said. “He probably hadn’t experienced failure like that before.” 

    After the team’s fourth game of the season, a 74-67 loss to Sheldon High School in Sacramento, CA, Giles brought McCain into his office to have a word. Before long, McCain got emotional and broke down in tears. 

    Giles, a former four-year starter at Concordia University, usually avoids talking about his own playing experience with players, but felt that this was a unique situation. 

    “When I played in college, there were a lot of things I became obsessed with,” Giles recalls from his conversation with McCain. “One of them was why could I be so good from one game and then maybe not as good in another.” 

    It was at this point that Giles told McCain about The Inner Game of Tennis. Giles, a die-hard USC football fan, stumbled upon this 134-page book after learning that former Trojan head coach Pete Carroll turned to it to help craft his program. 

    The book draws its basic concept from Buddhist principles, explaining that our brains will often screw up what our bodies are perfectly capable of doing. 

    “Basically, shut your mind off, get out of your own way and let your body do what it already knows how to do,” Giles said. “That’s the whole premise of the book and it teaches you how to do that. I explained it to him and said it’s up to you.” 

    Immediately after his conversation with Giles, McCain went out and purchased his own copy of The Inner Game of Tennis, just days before Corona Centennial’s highly anticipated matchup with Rancho Christian High School and five-star center Evan Mobley

    From the jump, it was clear that McCain’s confidence was back. With time winding down and Rancho Christian holding a one point lead, McCain buried a three-pointer just when his team needed it most. 

    “It was basically the game-changing play,” Giles said. “Jared hit the biggest shot of the game.” 

    When the final buzzer sounded, Corona Centennial came away with the 70-62 victory, but more importantly, McCain’s confidence was back. 

    With a new air of poise and self awareness, McCain and Corona Centennial stormed through the rest of the regular season, winning 22 of the team’s final 23 games to enter the playoffs at 25-2. However, after a Feb. 14 loss to Mater Dei in overtime, followed by a 68-57 loss to Harvard Westlake, Corona Centennial’s chances of a CIF Championship looked bleak. 

    A 63-55 loss to Harvard-Westlake on March 4 was the team’s final nail in the coffin, ending Corona Centennial’s 2019-20 season and setting up a revenge tour for the ages. 

    Inspired by his copy of The Inner Game of Tennis, McCain ramped up his pursuit of self-growth, turning to daily meditation all in hopes of self improvement.

    “He’s pretty much mastered that as a 17-year-old, writing his goals down, working towards them, meditating and all those little things that other high schoolers aren’t doing,” said his older brother Jayce, a junior guard at Cal State San Marcos.

    Still reeling from last season’s late season disappointment, McCain found a key partner for his sophomore season – five-star guard Kylan Boswell

    Boswell, a 6-foot-1 guard out of Champaign, Illinois, became the perfect running mate for McCain, helping lead Corona Centennial to a 18-1 record ahead of its rematch with Harvard-Westlake on May 28. 

    Then came another bump in the road. Boswell was invited to the 2021 USA Men’s Junior National Team minicamp, an event that directly conflicted with Corona’s rematch with Harvard-Westlake. 

    Without Boswell, Corona Centennial faltered, falling 70-65 and completely deflating a team with hopes of a CIF Championship. As the team headed to the locker room, McCain welled up with tears in his eyes. 

    “I missed another chance at it,” McCain said at the time. 

    The next day, Coach Giles sat down with his devastated guard with the hopes of putting McCain at ease. The first thing they did was sit and watch film. Giles pointed to McCain’s three defensive breakdowns late in the game and sparked a new attitude in his junior leader. 

    Then came the matter of the CIF Championship. Despite the loss, Corona Centennial was not out of the playoff hunt. And after Harvard-Westlake fell at the hands of Damien High School, Giles and McCain knew they still had a chance. 

    Corona Centennial rolled to victories over Damien and Mater Dei in consecutive games, setting up a CIF Championship game with Sierra Canyon High School. 

    With massive icons like LeBron James and Drake sitting courtside and a dream of a CIF Championship at their fingertips, Giles delivered his pregame message to the team. 

    “You’ve done it hundreds of times preparing for this moment. Preparation has met opportunity.” 

    And with that, the team came in focused, completely locked in and executed to the best of their abilities, coming away with a 80-72 victory and a CIF Championship. 

    “To me, that was the moment when it was like, alright these guys are pretty special,” Giles said. 

    Throughout his CIF Championship run, McCain’s fame was brewing. During the quarantine period in March of 2020, he started an account on the social media video platform Tik Tok, posting fun dances before games and drawing a modest following. 

    “I’ve always loved dancing, so I just kept dancing and learning new dances,” McCain said. “It was during quarantine, so I knew I couldn’t be judged or roasted at school for it.” 

    Over the course of a few months, McCain’s videos would be noticed by a few hundred accounts with his most viewed video getting nearly 1,000 views. Then came Peach Jam, where everything changed. 

    For those that follow high school athletics, Peach Jam is considered the Crown Jewel of AAU basketball. The four-day long tournament is a culmination of Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. College coaches from all across the country will make their way to North Augusta, South Carolina to see the top high school basketball players from across the nation compete in the most well-acclaimed event of the summer. 

    McCain saw this as his chance to shine. Playing with Team WhyNot in the 16U boys tournament, McCain and Boswell combined forces once again to put on a show for the ages. 

    Before each game, McCain would record a dancing video, only posting it to Tik Tok if his team pulled off a victory. Little did he know those videos would propel him to stardom. 

    “That was crazy to see,” he said. “People would come up to me wanting a picture. That’s insane. That’s probably when I really knew people were actually tuning in.” 

    It was more than just his videos that drew people’s attention. After averaging 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 50.5 percent shooting from the field and 40.9 percent shooting from three-point range, McCain burst onto the national stage. 

    After leading his team to the 16U Championship Game, McCain knew it was his time to put the whole high school basketball landscape on notice. 

    “If I’m not at the same level as them then I’m better than them,” McCain said. “At that point, I was like, okay, I can really do something with this. If I keep working like that, I can actually do this for a living.”

    In a game broadcast on ESPN, facing off with Drive Nation, led by a pair of five-star recruits of their own, McCain played 46 minutes in a triple overtime thriller, going for 25 points, six rebounds and five assists.

    “I knew it back then, but this past summer he showed everyone else,” Jayce said. “He’s got to be a five-star at this point.”  

    Today, McCain has offers from most of the schools on his dream board. His Tik Tok now has more than 850,000 followers and his On3 name, image and likeness valuation of $225,000 is sixth among all high school basketball players. The latest ESPN 60 ranks him as the No. 22 player in the nation for the class of 2023. Yet, there are still a number of goals that remain within his grasp. 

    The recruiting process can be a stressful period of time for any high school junior. Making decisions for your future while balancing the pressures of schoolwork, basketball and a social life can often be a draining endeavor. 

    However, for McCain, being recruited by the nation’s top programs has always been a dream. 

    Two of the logos on McCain’s dream board stare him directly in the eyes. First up, a trip to Durham from February 6-8 for an official visit to the historic Duke University. 

    “It’s Duke. You can’t get much better than that,” McCain said. “It’s the Duke brotherhood. Just having that family atmosphere is something that’s a main thing for me.” 

    When it comes to Blue Devils, McCain is being pursued by a number of figures close to the program. Of course, there’s head-coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer, who is set to take over for Hall-of-Famer Mike Krzyzewski at the end of the 2021-22 season. Then there’s Sean Stewart and Caleb Foster, the two current commits in Duke’s 2023 recruiting class, both making their pitches to the five-star guard. 

    “Nothing is really going to change. It’s still going to be Duke basketball,” McCain said. “Just to get out there for my official, I’m really excited. Just to see everything. I’ve been watching their YouTube videos.” 

    Shortly after his trip to Durham, McCain will head west to Spokane to get a look at Gonzaga University, his official visit set for February 12-14. 

    “I just want to get out there for an official, see the atmosphere,” McCain said. “I know the atmosphere in the arena is crazy. Just getting a chance to see the school and see how they play.” 

    McCain remembers back to October of last year when he first received an offer from last year’s national runner-ups. 

    “That one was just crazy to get,” he said. “I was super excited when they offered me. For me, it’s just Gonzaga. You can’t really go wrong with anything there.” 

    Then there’s Houston and Louisville, the two schools that hosted McCain for his first-ever official visits in the fall. 

    First came the Louisville trip from September 17-19, a visit well-detailed in his first installment of the “What official visits are really like” video series released in late-September.  

    During his time at Louisville, McCain spent time with the coaches breaking down film of Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry before attending the Cardinals’ annual Louisville Live preseason preview event. 

    “They had posters for me and for all the recruits,” he said. “Just getting out there, seeing how I would play in their system, how involved coach is with all the players. It was super dope to see. That was a really cool experience.” 

    One week later, McCain headed to the University of Houston to see the program that just last year made its first Final Four appearance since 1984. 

    “The visit was very directed towards me,” McCain said. “It was really cool to see them lock in on my likes and dislikes. They broke down the film for me, broke down how I would be able to play within the system. It was really cool to see them really lock in and show me how I’ll fit into their system. Again, that family atmosphere, they really showed that they have that out in Houston. That was a major thing for me.” 

    With two visits in the rearview and two visits upcoming, McCain remains a hot commodity on the recruiting trail with schools like UCLA, USC, Texas Tech and Kansas also vying for a spot on his list as he breaks down his thoughts on each school:

    UCLA: “I went on an unofficial visit there. The campus is beautiful. It’s UCLA. It doesn’t get much better than that. Coach (Mick Cronin), when he offered me at that table, was just saying there’s going to be stars here, there are going to be players that could be better than you or could be worse than you. You never know. He was just saying to always be true to yourself and it’ll all come for you. We’re going to believe in you just as we believe in any other person and we’re trying to win a national championship here. I love that about UCLA.” 

    USC: “I’ve known coach Eric Mobley. My brother actually played with both his sons in sixth grade. We’ve known them for a really long time, so just having that almost family connection, he’s super humble about it. He always wants us to make the best decisions. Also, coach Andy Enfield was just saying if you come here, you can show what you can do and nobody is going to stop you. They want me to play my game and that’s really been the pitch from them. They have a family atmosphere which I love.”

    Texas Tech: “Coach (Barret) Peery came out to see me at the Damien Classic. He’s super cool. He’s always texting me motivational quotes or motivational pictures. Every morning, he texts me really early in the morning. It’s always really cool to see that right when I wake up. Just the pitch, they want me to get out there to see them.” 

    Kansas: “Coach (Kurtis) Townsend, he wants me to get out there for an official next year. They always send us stuff and videos of the campus. It’s another one. It’s Kansas. It’s been a dream. Their pitch is just that they want me to get out there and see what it’s like. They said it’s a little different out here, so I want to see what it’s like out there.” 

    Then there’s the question on everyone’s mind…when is a decision coming? 

    While McCain remains a long way from a commitment, he’s looking towards a current University of Alabama guard for some inspiration. 

    “I remember seeing Jahvon Quinerly considering committing at the McDonald’s All American Game,” he said. “I always thought that was cool. That might be a little late, but I don’t know. We’ll see.” 

    As Jared McCain stares up at his Dream Board, his copy of The Inner Game of Tennis placed neatly on his desk, he knows there’s still a lot more to accomplish.

    He knows people will look at his Tik Tok and may develop unfounded ideas that he’s more focused on dancing than basketball. 

    He knows there’s a long way to go until the NBA and making the right college choice will be crucial in his journey. 

    But with an unrivaled work ethic, a group of family, friends and mentors by his side and a foundation of basketball dating back to his beginnings in Sacramento, California, he remains unworried.  

    “He’s one of the toughest damn players I’ve ever coached and if you want to think he’s soft, that’s fine,” Giles said. “Just remember that when you play against him.”

    Feature Image: Taylor Hansen

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