Perth Wildcats import Jameel McKay finds his best form when he is pushed.
As a young man at Iowa State, his then coach Fred Hoiberg demanded he bring out his full talents every day.
Hoiberg, now the Chicago Bulls coach, wouldn’t let his 206-centimetre forward drift away on defence or duck any chances for a block, steal or deflection as he saw exactly what Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson sees in McKay.
A game-changing talent.
Where a thinly built but powerfully capable athlete like McKay fits in the pro-game takes some work as older, burlier players could try to exploit him, similarly canny guards who might lean in to draw fouls.
“Fred used me as a versatile player and he got everything out of me – sort of like I’m doing now,” McKay said.
“One night I might have 15 points but zero rebounds and blocks and he would then get on me, saying I needed to have 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
I am blessed to have that talent and I want to continue to embrace it.”
In the Wildcats’ Australian Basketball Challenge game with Illawarra Hawks, McKay looked out-matched in the first half as the veteran Hawks’ big man overpowered him at both ends.
But this is where 23 year old shows promise.
When he was challenged and struggling, he dug deep and turned around his fortunes attacking the glass and finishing with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
This is where the young professional acknowledges he has to hone his craft and learn how to hone his competitive juices every night.
“I didn’t score my first points until someone scored on me and said something to me – then I was like “ah no, now I’m woke”,” McKay said with a laugh.
“That’s typically how it goes. I’m working on having that energy be second nature to me.”
While McKay is projected as a centre or power forward, the Wildcats will likely spread his athletic talents into some different areas, perhaps more so when Matt Knight returns from injury and bulks up the front line.
Expect to see the big man leading the Wildcats’ press at times and also looking to play help defence and jump into lanes to make steals or blocks.
“I just continue to be me. It’s not all about scoring every day,” McKay said.
“It’s about being yourself and staying positive. They keep me positive and tell me to contribute in the other aspects of the game.
“I just knew I needed to come out with more energy and play harder. This whole preseason has just been about me being consistent and rebounding.”
When it comes to defence, there is no better mentor than Wildcats point guard Damian Martin and the Rio Olympian has already become one of McKay’s role models in the group.
McKay wants to eventually take his game to the highest levels of the basketball and he will only be able to do that with the best possible attitude.
“In college you can get away with just being a kid but now I’m with grown men who have jobs and families to feed,” McKay said.
“You got to bring it every day and there is no excuse not to.
“I just look at how Damo [Martin] and the other vets take it and handle things – then I try to install that in myself and make it a priority to have the same mindset.”
If the Wildcats’ can implant Martin’s mindset into a beast like McKay then the Red Army will have something special on their hands.