In their season-saving win over New Zealand on Friday night, the Cairns Taipans unveiled their not-so-secret weapon: Mitch McCarron’s attack mode.
The 24-year-old scored 11 of his NBL career-high 14 points in the fourth quarter, driving the Taipans to a much-needed home win.
Relentlessly attacking the basket and crashing the offensive glass, McCarron also finished with a team-high 6 rebounds as well as 3 assists and a steal in a Ladbrokes Player of the Game performance.
It was the kind of showing head coach Aaron Fearne has been waiting for, having urged the rising star to be more aggressive in the second half of the season.
“It’s his second year as a pro but the NBL is a lot better than the league he played in last year (in Spain) and he’s done a really good job,” Fearne said.
“He’s going to keep falling over and has to keep picking himself back up and keep learning.”
McCarron spent much of the final quarter against the Breakers at the charity stripe, knocking down seven of his eight attempts down the stretch.
“The way our system is, multiple guys touch the ball and when we are moving it and playing with pace it should be that way,” McCarron said postgame.
“Guys have opportunities to score in different spots and when everyone’s aggressive, we are a lot harder to guard. I was able to get to the free throw line, which I haven’t been able to do in the past few games.”
The key for McCarron is staying in attack mode.
An excellent rebounder for his size, he sometimes lacks the aggressiveness to rip the ball off the rim and push it up the floor, something he did very well during his college days at Metro State. The same goes in the half-court, where McCarron’s explosive speed and athleticism, combined with his rock-hard frame, make him tough to stay in front of.
During a recent unassertive game, Fearne spoke to McCarron directly about playing “with better intent.”
“You just can’t be out there as a passenger, you’ve always got to be asking the defence the question, ‘are you going to stop me?’,” Fearne explained.
“Experienced defenders know if you’re not even trying to look to score …. Now (Mitch) is starting to think, ‘if I’m open I’m going to shoot it, make a play, get to the rim’, all those different things.”
That was exactly the mentality Friday night against the Kiwis; McCarron catching and shooting, making plays off the dribble and putting heat on the rim.
— NBL (@NBL) January 6, 2017
Fearne loved it, setting McCarron the task to build on that performance.
“The challenge for him is to continue to keep doing that,” Fearne said.
“I know this is the pros, against men who are sometimes ten years older than him right now, but I think the younger generation these days, they don’t really care about the older guys anyway, they get out there and go, ‘well you’re done, I’m coming out here to kick your butt.’ That’s how they think.
“Physically that’s not going to be a big issue for him and athletically he’s fine. It’s just when you come up against those older, experienced guys, they will teach you some tricks, but you’ve got to learn from them and learn quickly.
“Some players can really do that, some take longer than others. (Mitch) will have no problem moving forward.”
The win helped elevate Cairns off the bottom and, at 8-10 with games in hand, they’re suddenly right back in the mix.
It may also have shone the spotlight on McCarron’s importance to the Taipans’ playoff push, likely resulting in more prominence on the scouting report and greater defensive attention.
“I think you embrace that, you welcome it,” Fearne said.
“It’s a sign of respect when people really start to game plan for you and want to try to take things away and really get to know your game.
“He was a National Player of the Year at college. I mean, he was a targeted man at Metro State, he didn’t become Division II National Player of the Year for nothing, so he’s had to deal with that spotlight before.”
For McCarron, it’s all part and parcel of playing his first year in the NBL. He entered the league aiming to keep things simple and absorb as much as he can.
“I like the culture here (in Cairns); it’s a winning culture where guys want to do everything they can and put a lot of hard work in,” he said.
“I just wanted to keep working hard and try and figure it out along the way. [This season] has had its ups and downs so far, but that’s the life of a first year player, I think, so I’m just trying to learn from it.”
His latest lesson: stay in attack mode.
Written for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria