He ended it struggling over a decision to return for his senior year or pursue his NBA dream.
Much has happened these past eight months. On Monday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena, two days after declaring he’ll indeed stay for a final season at Tennessee, McRae did some reflecting.
“Every player dreams to one day get to the NBA, but you don’t really realize how much of a process it is until you’re in it,” said the 6-foot-6 McRae, an All-SEC first team selection by both the league coaches and media. “When you’re younger you think, ‘oh, the NBA will call and I’ll be ready.’ But there were times recently where I was really worried about my future — where I was going to be. Ultimately
I think I made the right choice.”
McRae started the final 21 games of the season, averaging 19.2 points against SEC competition (third in league) in 37.7 minutes per game (first in the SEC).
Those numbers will be challenging to duplicate in a senior campaign that might see McRae named the SEC preseason player of the year. If rising junior Jarnell Stokes also spurns the NBA to return to UT, the Vols will welcome back 82.8 percent of their scoring from the past season.
Then toss Jeronne Maymon and Robert Hubbs III into the mix. Maymon, who missed all of 2012-13 with a knee injury, was UT’s second-leading scorer in 2011-12 at 12.7 points per game. Hubbs, an incoming five-star freshman from Dyer County, is a 6-6 shooting guard with deep range and above-the-rim ability.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin told the News Sentinel on Monday that he plans to cut McRae’s minutes back to a more manageable 28-to-30 per game next year.
That leaves a two-part recipe for McRae.
“The fact of the matter is, I’m not going to average 20 points per game in the SEC,” he said. “The bright side is, I won’t have to. We’re going to be good. We’re going to be balanced. I’m going out there trying to be more efficient.”
And the goals are more far-reaching than that.
“There are a lot of things I want to do, not for me personally, but with this team,” McRae said. “The fans deserve an NCAA tournament and as hard as we’ve worked, we deserve it.”
Much of McRae’s decision was dictated by feedback he received from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee. The group of NBA executives produces reports on where potential early entries could be drafted and evaluates each player.
“I have to gain some weight and just work on a lot of things in my game,” said McRae, who weighs 178 pounds. “Ultimately, I didn’t feel like I was ready and I wasn’t going to let anybody else pressure me into thinking I can develop there (in the NBA). I want to develop before I’m there. I felt like I wasn’t ready.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.