Gettig back in the game
Fully recovered McGee ready to lead Gorillas
Michael Bauer | Sport Reporter
So far, JaVon McGee is a different player as a forward compared to last year.
A month into the season, the senior from Grandview High School in Kansas City, Mo., did not look like the same player who was the bread and butter of a Pittsburg State team that came agonizingly one game away from a surprise berth in the NCAA Division II basketball tournament.
McGee wasn’t even supposed to play this season for the Gorillas because of a wrist injury. But that did not stop him from becoming the 22nd player in PSU history to score 1,000 career points, and he did so in style.
During the game on Jan. 19, McGee hit a pair of free throws in the first half to achieve this milestone. Suddenly, he was showing signs of his old self as he finished the game with 22 points. He was once again slipping into that leading-scorer role, which the fans had become accustomed to during his career at PSU.
And yet, McGee says he could care less about his accomplishment. While it will make a good story to tell his family in the future, right now all that is meaningless to him. He is focused on getting back to the MIAA Tournament in March.
“It means a lot,” McGee said. “But right now, it doesn’t really mean that much to me just because I’m focused on our season and I want to get back to the MIAA tournament, go back and win the championship.”
Last year, the Gorillas entered the conference tournament with a 15-13 record, which meant that the team would need to capture the MIAA title to move on to the NCAA Division II tournament. A victory over Central Missouri and an upset of 18th-ranked Northwest Missouri later, Pitt State found itself one win from qualifying. The miraculous run was upended with a 67-63 loss to Washburn. McGee had only eight points that game and takes responsibility over his team’s shortcoming.
“I’m still hurt from last year how I let the team down and didn’t really play up to my performance and win in Kansas City,” McGee said.
McGee was a junior and there was a lot of talk surrounding him as the top returning player for the Gorillas’ 2012-13 season. But then, a basketball-unrelated injury put McGee’s season in jeopardy.
While taking summer classes, McGee was riding his bicycle before falling off and breaking his wrist, requiring surgery.
It soon looked as if McGee would not suit up this year. But, he says he believes, the man upstairs was on McGee’s side when it came time for healing.
“I wasn’t supposed to play this year, but God works in mysterious ways,” McGee said. “He’s a miracle worker and helped me come back a lot earlier than expected so I came back, did my physical therapy and now my wrist feels stronger than ever and I feel stronger than ever and doing good.”
How did he know that he was stronger than ever? Case in point: McGee went nine of 15 and was four of six from the free-throw line to finish as the game’s leading scorer with 22 points. McGee from 2012 appears to be back.
“At the start of this year… he broke his hand,” said head coach Kevin Muff. “I thought he did a good job of coming back from that and early in the season he wasn’t as effective as he currently is and a lot of that is due to his perseverance and responding to the needs of the team. His statistics have risen since. We’ve got the old JaVon back from last year and is a playing force for us and that really matters.”
To come back from his injury, McGee went through physical therapy. When he was good enough to practice, he wasted no time getting on the court and practicing.
“Javon is a hard worker and spends a lot of time in the gym on his spare time,” Muff said. “He’s been able to accomplish his achievement by putting the team first. He’s also the only kid on this team that has stayed with this program since I took over and he is being rewarded with that through perseverance.”
Last year, McGee led the team in practically every category, from points scored to rebounds. So far this season, not so much. But as far as McGee is concerned, those are just individual victories, not team wins.
“I can lead all the categories, but if we don’t come out with a win then I’m probably doing something wrong,” McGee said. “It’s not hard to go out and win a lot of categories the way I played last year. But the last two games last year, I really wasn’t prepared for it and took a step back and I’ve kept myself calm this year so I can come back stronger than ever.”
The Gorillas currently sit at a 12-4 record and 5-3 in conference, three losses fewer than they were at this point last year. The chances of Pitt State getting into the national tournament may be better now, but that’s the only thing on McGee’s mind right now because he’s a senior. And what about those 1,000 points? He has plenty of time to enjoy that later.
“I know it’s a great milestone and I’m happy about it,” McGee said. “Sooner or later it’ll actually hit home, but right now I’m focused on the season. I know down the road it’s a great accomplishment for me.”