Mitch McGary had been waiting a long time.
The last live game action for McGary came back on Dec. 14 at Crisler Center in a two-point loss at the hands of No. 1 Arizona. In that game, McGary played 22 minutes scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds for Michigan, but something just wasn’t right.
Taking three months off leading up to his sophomore campaign and 2013-14 season for Michigan following an off-season back injury, little did the Wolverines or fans hoping for a return trip to the Final Four know that that would be the last we saw of the energetic and talented McGary in the big game maize jerseys.
Opting to undergo back surgery in an announcement on Dec. 27, McGary’s immediate future was unknown. Could No. 4 return late in the season? The questions rapidly changing to could McGary be ready to go should the Wolverines advance all the way to Dallas in the NCAA tournament?
The last question, no one will ever know. Michigan was knocked out in the Elite Eight by Kentucky and off the floor walked McGary with his teammates, most believing for the last time.
Early in the off-season, rumors swirled about the futures of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and McGary. Some had all three forgoing the final two years of their college careers to head to the NBA, others thinking maybe just Stauskas, the Big Ten Player of the Year, would go.
After Stauskas and Robinson III made their news official, entering the 2014 NBA draft, the questions shifted to McGary, who, unfortunately wasn’t left with much choice.
In a story released by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports on April 25, McGary indicated he had failed a random NCAA mandated drug test following Michigan’s Sweet 16 win over Tennessee and would face a one year suspension should he decide to return to Ann Arbor.
The decision was simple, McGary was NBA bound.
For what it’s worth, McGary did say, as a part of the original story, he had passed eight drug tests administered in his two seasons at Michigan, including five during his sophomore year.
But marijuana isn’t the story here.
Beginning the process of finding an agent and speaking with teams, as well as continuing to rehab his back following January surgery, McGary was seen as a wild card to several franchises in the NBA.
Working out for just one team prior to the draft, the Milwaukee Bucks, McGary decided not to undergo physicals either. As the draft neared, McGary was projected as a late first round pick to early second round pick, with most speculating one team was prepared to take McGary in the first round regardless.
That team was the Oklahoma City Thunder and Scott Brooks who selected McGary at No. 21 overall, higher than any draft experts had predicted.
Before McGary takes the floor alongside 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant come the fall, his first taste of NBA action, and live basketball action of any kind in months, came Saturday during summer league in Orlando, in a loss to the Grizzlies.
McGary scored eight points in 21 minutes of action, looking healthy and with the same boyhood excitement embodying him at all times on the floor.
Sitting out Sunday’s game in order to avoid rushing his return, McGary took the floor again Monday evening and looked not only like a first round pick, but like the player that helped lead Michigan to a national title appearance in 2013.
McGary’s final stat line Monday: 18 points and 13 rebounds in a Thunder win.
McGary was able to showcase nearly every facet of his game and very versatile skillset given his almost 6-foot-11, 260-pound frame. Between pushing the ball up the floor ending in a no look delivery, consistently knocking down mid-range jumpers in rhythm from the baseline or beyond the elbow, or simply the energy and toughness he provides inside on both ends, McGary was the best player on the floor.
McGary was ultimately named Monday’s NBA rookie of the day at the summer league in Orlando.
Although his opportunity to show more at Michigan was cut short, if healthy, McGary could be a great asset to a Thunder team on the precipice of an NBA championship.