While the rest of us set goals for transformation in 2013, Jessie McKinley has been working on re-creating himself for a while.
The most dramatic change took place this past summer, as the junior transferred from Dixon to Oregon. He also changed positions from post to point guard.
While a lot has changed, one thing’s been a constant: McKinley’s move was predicated by his mom, Dekol Austin, who wanted to move from Dixon to Oregon. They made the move June 1, shortly after McKinley made the transfer official.
“I’m a momma’s boy,” McKinley admitted with a huge smile. “I’m always hanging out with my mom. So I was all in for it. Whatever’s good for her is good for me.”
McKinley’s certainly made his mom proud. His game has grown by light years, as he splits packs of waving defenders with the ball on a string. And his stats have followed suit.
After averaging 7.4 points per game as a post with the Dukes last season, he’s scoring 10.2 points per game in Oregon, despite the Hawks’ having an awful lot more mouths to feed, in terms of scoring. Exhibit A: McKinley hands out almost four assists per game.
“I love dishing,” McKinley said.
Equally eye-popping is his 5.8 rebounds per game as a point guard, compared to 4.9 a year ago.
It didn’t come without a lot of work. McKinley, an AAU veteran, took the advice of Ray Sharp, who is coach of the Sterling area’s Illinois Magic, in addition to coaching Newman’s boys team.
“The past two or three summers, he’s been telling me that if I want to play at the next level, I’m not going to be able to play the post,” said McKinley, who says he’d like to attend a 2-year school in the area before moving to a 4-year institution.
Upon moving to Oregon, the move to point made even more sense, with the Hawks’ full stable of big men that includes a prototypical 6-foot-5 post in Caleb Mowry, another 6-5 forward Alec Ketter, emerging 6-2 forward Billy Heeg and a do-it-all 6-4 athlete in Alex Cain.
Oregon coach Quinn Virgil was elated to have another weapon arrive before the summer circuit charged up.
“That’s so big nowadays,” he said. “We have so many games in the summer. He was able to play with us all summer long, and that helped smooth out the transition process.”
McKinley attended literal point guard camps, and Virgil and Co. made summer sessions an extension thereof, throwing speedy guards Ian Holley and Sean Kessler and others at McKinley, often two at a time.
“We put a lot of extra pressure on him,” Cain said. “By the end of the summer, we were clicking on all cylinders with him at the point.”
Cain, who played for the Rockford Wildcats, was used to guarding McKinley in AAU ball.
“We definitely focused on him as a post last year,” Cain said, “but we didn’t realize until this summer that he’s a tremendous ballhandler.”
Against physical opponents like St. Francis de Sales, which Oregon beat 63-61 Friday night in a Newman tournament semifinal, McKinley is a unique weapon that allows Holley and fellow sharpshooting guard Holden White to get free off the ball and in the corners.
But beyond basketball, McKinley has a homogenizing effect.
“He’s a good team guy and a glue guy,” Cain said. “He’s always looking for the better of the team. He brings a different energy to the team.”
McKinley might make a joke to lighten the mood at practice. Maybe he’ll throw down a one-handed stick to inject some energy. Sometimes, he does both.
“He’ll throw down a dunk to get us going, and then he’ll have some stupid one-liner he’s been thinking about to make everyone laugh,” Cain said.
Talk about a smooth transition. It was facilitated by a lot of laughs over burgers and floats at Jay’s Drive-In. Not to mention a team that made fitting in silky smooth.
“It happened pretty fast,” McKinley said. “It’s a great group of guys.”
Scott Goad, Dixon sr.9.0
Hayden Ikens, Dixon jr.8.2
Cal Jarrett, Dixon fr.7.6
Jessie McKinley, Dixon so.7.4
Cal Jarrett, Dixon fr.5.3
Jessie McKinley, Dixon so.4.9
Scott Goad, Dixon sr.2.2
Hayden Ikens, Dixon jr.1.6
Hayden Ikens, Dixon jr.1.6
Scott Goad, Dixon sr.1.3
Cal Jarrett, Dixon fr.1.2
Jessie McKinley, Dixon so.0.8
Ppg. 10.2, Rpg. 5.8,
Ppg. 10.2, Rpg. 5.8, Spg. 3.4, Apg. 3.8, Bpg. 1.5
FG % 47 FT % 62