For all of those athletes that have ever felt overlooked, not respected, and chained to the bench, let the case of IPFW sophomore basketball player Isaiah McCray serve as an example. The lesson to be learned is that your role can change quickly, so you better be prepared when opportunity knocks on your door.
When the 2011-12 IPFW's men's basketball season ended in March, the Mastodon coaches spoke of having high expectations for McCray next season, but the statistics told another story. The distribution of playing time indicated that the first-year point guard was seen as little more than depth behind classmate Jonny Marlin and redshirt sophomore Justin Jordan. Marlin (27 minutes per game) and Jordan (22 minutes per game) each saw significantly more time on the floor than McCray (13.5 minutes per game) had.
“(Isaiah) had a nice freshman year,” IPFW coach Tony Jasick said. “I liked a lot of things that he brought in terms of his effort, intangibles, and he grew as a defender.”
However, in the last month, Marlin heard the Lord, Jordan heard a pop, and now McCray is ready to hear his name.
Marlin felt a religious calling to transfer to Indiana and did so last month. In the case of Jordan, the former Indiana All-Star tore his ACL last week and is sidelined until Christmas time. That leaves McCray as the lone true point guard on the IPFW roster.
“It's time to go to work,” McCray said. “It's time to step up. I'm in a much different role and I feel like I am in a better role.”
McCray and his teammates have counseled Jordan on the importance of staying positive through his rehabilitation process. The North Side High School graduate should be back on the floor for the Summit League portion of next season. But at the same time, McCray understands the previous security blanket of depth has evaporated.
“I'm taking (the new role) on very well through workouts and things that we are doing in general,” McCray said.
Jasick is maintaining the company line in that he had high expectations for McCray all along. But the hopes for McCray have now become the needs for McCray in terms of improvement.
“At this point, our game plan for Isaiah remains the same,” Jasick said. “He needs to continue to improve. His areas for improvement are the same. We had hoped that Isaiah would compete for time at the point guard spot this year.”
Jasick stressed the importance for McCray to improve his perimeter shooting and decision making while running the offense. As a freshman, McCray shot just 32 percent from the field and he sank just seven three-point shots. As far as handling the ball, he had nearly as many turnovers (22) as assists (24). That is why the Mastodon coaches have been riding him about getting in the gym as much as possible this season.
McCray has been spending “just about every day” in the gym working on his shooting technique and he thinks that improvement has already come.
“I'm taking (the coaching) on very well and they are teaching me a lot,” McCray said. “I'm grasping it very well.”
According to Jasick perhaps the biggest asset to McCray's game is his toughness and willingness to “embrace being a defender.” The second-year coach said a lot of what McCray brings to the court can't be measured in a box score. One of those traits is confidence and McCray doesn't appear to be lacking in that regard.
“It's a better opportunity for me,” McCray said. “I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to the challenges. I can't wait.”