The Mitch McGary you don't know, through the eyes of his parents

Courtesy of Tim McGary
Michigan commit Mitch McGary is expected to sign his national letter of intent on Wednesday, officially committing to come to Ann Arbor next season.

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 8, 2011

By now, everyone’s heard about Mitch McGary, the nation’s No. 2 basketball recruit in the 2012 recruiting class who plans to sign his letter of intent to play at Michigan on Wednesday.

He loves talking about rap music, can shatter backboards and seems to thrive in the limelight, taking in national attention with relative ease.

But the Mitch you don’t know loves classic rock, can ride a unicycle and, shockingly, has always disliked the fame and notoriety that comes with being a superstar.

“When he was at Chesterton High School, he was the big man on campus, and he didn’t really like it,” said Tim McGary, Mitch’s father. “He was the tallest kid in the whole damned conference, and I don’t think he was too comfortable with that. He wasn’t mature enough to handle it.”

Added his mother, Valerie McGary: “He doesn’t let it get to his head at all and when he does his interviews, he just speaks really well, and it doesn’t bother him at all … He doesn’t like, sometimes, all the attention, but he knows it’s going to be there.

“He is a very likable kid and he has a heart of gold. He thinks of others, sometimes, before he thinks of himself.”

Mitch also has a disdain for being a bearer of bad news — something he’d have to bring to coaches that didn’t make his final list of potential suitors.

So instead of doing it himself, he gave the difficult task to his dad.

“When he cut it down to six schools, he wanted me to do all the dirty work,” Tim said. “I called a lot of coaches and told them. Mitch is a pretty darn nice guy, and he doesn’t want to bring bad news.”

On the surface, many fans and analysts were surprised when Mitch’s cut-down list included the Wolverines alongside Duke, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Kentucky — all traditional basketball powerhouses.

But Michigan had things to offer that no other program could match.

First, after Mitch spent the last two years in far-away New Hampshire, he'll be just two hours away from the McGary's home in Chesterton, Ind. Given his parents hectic work schedules — Tim often works 16-hour overnight shifts — only the Wolverines could offer the McGarys a chance to see their son play.

Second, Mitch already has well-established connections inside the Michigan program. When Mitch was a freshman at Chesterton High School, senior guard Zack Novak was the Trojans’ star player. The two have remained close.

Mitch’s AAU team, the SYF Players, featured freshman forward Max Bielfeldt and another Michigan commit in the class of 2012, Glenn Robinson III — the son of former NBA player Glenn Robinson, Jr. and one of Mitch’s best friends.

“He’s pretty darn good friends with Glenn,” Tim said.

And in the end, the Michigan coaching staff won the family over.

“They were over (at) our house for dinner in September and they were great,” Tim said of his dinner with Michigan coach John Beilein and assistants Bacari Alexander, LaVall Jordan and Jeff Meyer. “Bacari, he’s a great guy. He’s going to have his own program someday — he’s just fantastic. And coach Beilein is just as honest as the day is long. We hung out all day with (director of basketball operations Travis Conlan) and with LaVall.”

Added Valerie: “They’re down-to-earth people — they make you feel at home, they make you feel like you’re a part of their family, even the first time we met them.”

But things inside the McGary household weren’t always maize and blue.

“I really liked Coach K,” Tim said, pausing, still in awe over the Duke coach. “But I’m happy with Mitch’s decision. I mean, I like John Beilein as well. He’s a genuine guy. My wife and I, at first, really wanted him to go to Duke, but we’re very happy with his choice.”

Tim estimates it was about three weeks ago that Mitch made his final decision to go to Michigan. While Mitch was at home during fall break a few weeks ago, Tim attempted to sit down with his son and go over his options. Mitch wasn’t having much of it.

“I tried talking to him about it, and he didn’t want to talk about it,” Tim said. “He had made up his mind, but he wouldn’t let me say anything.

“Once Mitch makes up his mind, he’s very — he’s like my wife, he’s very stubborn. You can’t change his mind. So once he made up his mind, it was a done deal.”

While the Blue Devils were the team Tim initially hoped his son would pick, he once thought Mitch would decide to play another sport: baseball.

“I knew he had something special in him a long time ago,” Tim said. “I really thought he was going to be a great baseball player because he was a hell of a baseball player. He was a great pitcher, great hitter and I really thought that that’s where he was going to excel at.”

But as Mitch continued to grow and it became apparent that basketball held a brighter future, he was forced to quit after eighth grade to accommodate the AAU circuit’s travel schedule.

“He was pretty disappointed about it, but hey, it worked out great,” Tim said, laughing.

And baseball isn’t Mitch’s only hidden ability.

“I know he can ride the hell out of a unicycle,” Tim said. “He can ride a skateboard and a unicycle like nobody I’ve ever seen — pretty good for a kid that big.”

Mitch’s slow maturation process has been well documented. It’s no secret that he was forced to leave Chesterton and enroll in either a prep school or junior college in order to have a chance at academically qualifying for a Division-I program. So he chose to go to Brewster Academy, and it’s done wonders for him.

“He had to grow up,” Valerie said. “Moving away from home — it’s a college dorm setting is what he lives in. He had to grow up and do his own laundry and take care of himself because I’m not there.”

Added Tim: “Going away to Brewster really made him change and really made him grow up and be more responsible and be held accountable for everything he did. Brewster’s been good in so many ways.”

Because of the extra year in prep school — Mitch would’ve graduated high school last spring — he could qualify for the upcoming NBA Draft. Although he’s ruled that out, many analysts expect him to be a one-and-done player. Tim acknowledges that he’s discussed the NBA with his son, but it’s premature at this point.

“I think that he would have to have an unbelievable year next year for him to be thinking about going to the NBA, so we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it,” Tim said.

But even with the national spotlight shining bright on Mitch — whether it’s his face plastered all over ESPN or the blog he wrote chronicling his recruitment — behind it all is just a regular kid.

“He just wants to be Mitch, you know?” Tim said. “That’s just the way he is. He just wants to be Mitch and play ball.”