Jordan McRae trying to stay focused amid SEC player of the year, NBA rumblings

Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) goes up for a basket as Florida forward Erik Murphy (33) defends at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) goes up for a basket as Florida forward Erik Murphy (33) defends at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Cuonzo Martin on Jordan McRae

Vols talk about loss to Georgia

First, the eyes rolled. Then, the head shook side-to-side.

“Don’t do that don’t do that,” Jordan McRae began, before the inevitable question reached completion. “C’mon man. I have no thoughts(on that). Tennessee basketball, Auburn, Missouri — that’s my only focus right now.”

The Tennessee junior is getting some well-earned but unwanted attention.

Jordan McRae for SEC player of the year? Jordan McRae, future NBA player?

That’s what averaging 29.8 points and making 20 of 32 3-point attempts in a late-season, four-game stretch gets you. A spotlight that began the season centered on injured star Jeronne Maymon, then shifted to sophomore Jarnell Stokes, then slid over to point guard Trae Golden, is now trained solely on the long-limbed, wincingly thin McRae.

That’s why Monday began with some lobbying.

“I think if I had a vote (for SEC player of the year), I’d vote Jordan McRae,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said at his weekly media luncheon.

Told of Martin’s petitioning, McRae said, “Of course it would mean a lot to me, but at this course of the season, I’m not really thinking about all that. I’m just trying to win out these last two games.”

Still eyeing those dangling, up-for-grabs at-large berths to the NCAA tournament, the Vols (17-11, 9-7 SEC) will close the season with a couple of Tigers. They’ll face struggling Auburn (9-20, 3-13), losers in 12 of its last 13, on Wednesday (TV: CSS, 9 p.m.) at Auburn Arena. The finale brings Missouri to Thompson-Boling on Saturday afternoon.

They’re the last two games of what’s become an unexpected player-of-the-year campaign.

Unexpected because it wasn’t supposed to be McRae’s candidacy. But then McRae doused himself in diesel and became the hottest scorer in the country this side of Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

LSU saw 34 points. Texas A&M endured 23. Florida succumbed to 27. Georgia was force fed 35.

Through 24 games, McRae, who put up 26 points three times earlier this season, but was held to single digits in eight other outings, was averaging 13.2 points per game. After the last four games, that average is up to 16.0 points.

Thus all the chatter around McRae.

One NBA scout told the News Sentinel on Monday that McRae is indeed on the league’s radar. The guard’s natural, versatile scoring ability and improved 3-point shooting is attractive. His 6-foot-5, 178-pound frame, though, project him as an undersized two guard.

It’s far too early to discuss the specifics — the potential of McRae entering the draft early or if and when he’d be selected — but the talk exists.

“I think when it’s all said and done, he’ll be there (the NBA),” Martin said.

McRae claims accolades and the NBA aren’t on his itinerary. He said, “It’s all about trying to get wins,” and deflected praise of his blooming production to his teammates.

That doesn’t mean reality hasn’t crept into view. McRae acknowledged that going from stagehand to star in three months can change a 21-year-old.

“If you don’t control it, it can be different,” the Georgia native said. “My phone is off a lot of the time. I try to stay out of all that conversation about the superstar and all that.”

Much of McRae’s elevated play stems from being untethered by Martin. A balance of improved shooting and innate scoring from difficult spots has turned him into one of the SEC’s biggest mismatches. He can shoot over smaller, quicker defenders and drive past taller, stronger foes. As a result, he’s been given a long leash by his coach.

“I think confidence has a lot to do with it,” Martin said.

And as long that confidence keeps producing points, the surrounding conversation will remain.

Whether McRae likes it or not.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.

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Comments » 55

TheEffect writes:

I really like McRae's game. I would reserve giving him SEC POY because he has not done it all year.....I would not be against him getting it either! Based on a weak draft class, this would probably be a good year for him to test the NBA water. He is as good as many that are out there.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to TheEffect:

I really like McRae's game. I would reserve giving him SEC POY because he has not done it all year.....I would not be against him getting it either! Based on a weak draft class, this would probably be a good year for him to test the NBA water. He is as good as many that are out there.

Much as I hate to admit it, for several reasons, I have to say you have a point. Jordan seems recently to have gotten a pretty good grasp of when and how to use his explosive athleticism to his best advantage rather than "just because".

signalcorps writes:

If he can do the same next season,,he will be a top five pick,,,,if he leaves early the mentally stronger NBA players will dominate over him ,,,most never over come it,,,they don't stay long enough to get vested(pro players will tell you it's a business),,they go to the D league or go over seas and have to have guards for them and their families.....(it's more to think about than I can go early)

iowavol writes:

Not sure I agree with the first two comments. I think JM has grown in confidence and with it, the ability to move around and through screens, to elevate above typically shorter defenders, and confidence in his teammates for being in the right spot at the right time. This is a warranted discussion for JM.

dvols writes:

have i missed somethng....

signalcorps writes:

in response to iowavol:

Not sure I agree with the first two comments. I think JM has grown in confidence and with it, the ability to move around and through screens, to elevate above typically shorter defenders, and confidence in his teammates for being in the right spot at the right time. This is a warranted discussion for JM.

He's turning into a real shooter,,,he needs to stay one more year for just that reason he's just started,,his shot from the right corner reminds me of Larry Bird,,he's going to learn soon enough it's a lot of players in the NBA that can stroke it also,,,and it's a business ..

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

NBA is a tough nut to crack..So many think they have it but don't even make the D league. Chism, Lofton,Prince and J. Smith all were great Vols and game changers but never really sniffed the NBA..Tobias Harris has been with the Bucks awhile and I don't think he avg.s. 2 or 3 PPG. If he gets to see the court at all

VinylVols writes:

Actually Tobias was traded to Orlando and is getting somewhere around 18 ppg for them now in the last 5 games.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say by reading the tweets this afternoon the only rumblings were a bunch of reporters sitting around. Witch Doctor say he needs 15-20 pounds and another year then maybe top 10-15 pick. Witch Doctor say JMac got game!
Bones never lie.

RickyVols writes:

If McCray can get drafted and paid this year he should go, but I sure would like to see what this team can do next year with Maymon playing. One more year of college ball could only help Jordan in the long run. Go Vols!

By the way, why is "Vols" underlined as a misspelled word when you enter a comment on this message board?

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to RickyVols:

If McCray can get drafted and paid this year he should go, but I sure would like to see what this team can do next year with Maymon playing. One more year of college ball could only help Jordan in the long run. Go Vols!

By the way, why is "Vols" underlined as a misspelled word when you enter a comment on this message board?

Vols. Witch Doctor never notice that..good catch.! Witch Doctor agree, he should go work out and see, Witch Doctor be surprised if the NBA wants him this quick..but hey? who knows?
Bones never lie.

Vol_In_Ohio writes:

NBA player comparison:
Jamal Crawford

At least the way he is playing on offense lately. Anyone agree?

SummittsCourt writes:

It would be nice for him and Stokes to come back and join Maymon next season. We can only hope right?

Go Vols, beat the Tigers x2!

eb502us#225637 writes:

McRae is a poor mans Scotty Hopson. Lacking ball handling skills and a consistent outside shot to make it in the NBA. Just another reporter looking for something to write.

carbonzip writes:

McCrae has improved in every part of the game. Martin played in the NBA can help McCrae get to the next level.

alfrizzle097 writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

McRae is a poor mans Scotty Hopson. Lacking ball handling skills and a consistent outside shot to make it in the NBA. Just another reporter looking for something to write.

Jordan doesn't have Scotty's size, but i would say he is better in just about every other way. scoring off the dribble, decision making, passing, three point shooting, etc. Hopson wasn't as good at any of these as what we've seen lately.

Maybe a lower ceiling for Jordan, but Scotty never got near his.

tturley#297658 writes:

If McCrae sticks around for another year and adds about 15- 20 lbs of muscle, he'll be a top-10 pick next year in the NBA draft. Of course, if he projects as a 1st round pick, he should go this year, and start eating his Wheaties.

veinsoforange writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

McRae is a poor mans Scotty Hopson. Lacking ball handling skills and a consistent outside shot to make it in the NBA. Just another reporter looking for something to write.

EXACTLY!!!

As bad as I hate to be negative about my fellow vol, there is NO WAY he is NBA material.

Scotty Hopson is/was at least 2X the better player (not to mention "pro"to-type physique) that McRae is.

Another KNS writer doing a perfect job at nothing "realistic"!!!

chattbud writes:

Brendan Quinn: First, the eyes rolled. Then, the head shook side-to-side.“Don’t do that don’t do that,” Jordan McRae began, before the inevitable question reached completion. “C’mon man. I have no thoughts(on that). Tennessee basketball, Auburn, Missouri — that’s my only focus right now.”
Chatt Bud: Mr. Quinn, why even bring it up? Why even go there,.. Why ask NBA? Gosh can’t the kid stay focus on team, the season & college exams! Without a KNS reporter asking the NBA question already?,..You’re starting the kid’s head spinning! Can’t you think of a better question on the UT vs. Ga game? How about why Coach Martin only played K. Hall 15-min (TEN-point) against the Ga zone. & why does coach CM have to watch film on Stokes to find out what was wrong? This is BB five guys 50’ away from you! A BB coach doesn’t watch film to make adjustment. He must make them during the game! It’s too late for the film study!

underthehill writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

McRae is a poor mans Scotty Hopson. Lacking ball handling skills and a consistent outside shot to make it in the NBA. Just another reporter looking for something to write.

I can't see much in McRae to indicate he is anything like Hopson..he has far more ball handling skills as well as far more passing skills..he is a much better defender and has played with a team attitude..McRae has a far better chance to play in the NBA than Hopson..if he keeps playing like he is..I think he will check how is projected to go and I think Martin will advise him to do what is best for his future..I have a friend who is a retired coach that has said all along that McRae had the talent ..he just needed to learn when to use it and get on balance when he was taking the outside shot and not play out of control..have to say I never agreed and I was wrong on this one..no player can do what McRae has done lately unless he is born with that kind of talent..he is just learning how to use it..

signalcorps writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

He could guard at the one or two,, the pro scouts see it also,,,if he Wait one more year he has a chance to become a NBA super star,,,,stokes has mential problems guarding bigs his size ,,(he likes it easy),,he will rotate off every time he's guarding a big his size.......way to go vols your looking good

signalcorps writes:

in response to tturley#297658:

If McCrae sticks around for another year and adds about 15- 20 lbs of muscle, he'll be a top-10 pick next year in the NBA draft. Of course, if he projects as a 1st round pick, he should go this year, and start eating his Wheaties.

all all these young players coming out early these days don't do very good,,,,the older players dominate over them until they become the men they have become......

signalcorps writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

McRae is a poor mans Scotty Hopson. Lacking ball handling skills and a consistent outside shot to make it in the NBA. Just another reporter looking for something to write.

I'm laughing nothing you said was the truth,,,your just trying to start trouble

brod writes:

it would be a terrible decision if mcrae leaves early. he is not ready. he must have forgotten that he was coming off the bench until january.

signalcorps writes:

in response to tturley#297658:

If McCrae sticks around for another year and adds about 15- 20 lbs of muscle, he'll be a top-10 pick next year in the NBA draft. Of course, if he projects as a 1st round pick, he should go this year, and start eating his Wheaties.

does need to stay one more year and get stronger,,,also he must learn to get his shot off under strong man defence,,that's were the weight and strength comes into play......

signalcorps writes:

just because your being drafted the first round means nothing unless they pay you $20,000,000 or more just for signing your name,,,everything Else is taking a big gamble......

TheEffect writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

McRae is a poor mans Scotty Hopson. Lacking ball handling skills and a consistent outside shot to make it in the NBA. Just another reporter looking for something to write.

The one big difference I see between him and Hopson is McRae is more mentally stable. Hopson was so up and down.....you never knew which side of him was going to show up!

What McRae has that is so appealing is a good outside shot with a quick release. He also has a winning mentality. With a weak NBA draft this year, I think he would be drafted late first to middle second round. A good time to make some money.

IPOrange writes:

in response to veinsoforange:

EXACTLY!!!

As bad as I hate to be negative about my fellow vol, there is NO WAY he is NBA material.

Scotty Hopson is/was at least 2X the better player (not to mention "pro"to-type physique) that McRae is.

Another KNS writer doing a perfect job at nothing "realistic"!!!

FALSE! Scotty had better skills, but was half the player on the court. I wanted Scotty to be great, just like everyone else, but he never had what it takes to step up and be the man over the course of a season. I kept waiting, and it never happened. McRae needs to stay because he doesn't have the body yet, and I'm sure the scouts would like to see consistency over more than four games. But he WILL fill out that body eventually, and if the consistency lasts, he'll play. He won't be a top 10 pick, as someone suggested, but he'll play. They don't play the game on paper. Kevin McHale had the body of a orangutan and couldn't jump over the free-throw line, but the dude could fill the basket. And when you have to score 120 to win a game, you need dudes that can fill the basket.

mloaks#222092 writes:

bulk up and go, but VFL...

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Jordan McRae can create a shot and that has to be catching the NBA scouts eye..He still needs some ball handling skills tweaked and some more weight on his lanky frame..However, he is playing at a Kevin Durant type level right now.

maciste54 writes:

Hey Jordan: two words- Scotty and Hopson.
You're more talented but get another year of seasoning !

brokendownoldvol writes:

NBA? Not ready.

veinsoforange writes:

in response to IPOrange:

FALSE! Scotty had better skills, but was half the player on the court. I wanted Scotty to be great, just like everyone else, but he never had what it takes to step up and be the man over the course of a season. I kept waiting, and it never happened. McRae needs to stay because he doesn't have the body yet, and I'm sure the scouts would like to see consistency over more than four games. But he WILL fill out that body eventually, and if the consistency lasts, he'll play. He won't be a top 10 pick, as someone suggested, but he'll play. They don't play the game on paper. Kevin McHale had the body of a orangutan and couldn't jump over the free-throw line, but the dude could fill the basket. And when you have to score 120 to win a game, you need dudes that can fill the basket.

I guess I can agree with your view now that I have put more thought into it.

McRae must fill out his frame though.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to RickyVols:

If McCray can get drafted and paid this year he should go, but I sure would like to see what this team can do next year with Maymon playing. One more year of college ball could only help Jordan in the long run. Go Vols!

By the way, why is "Vols" underlined as a misspelled word when you enter a comment on this message board?

JM's game has evolved to the point where this is a worthy topic of discussion. I just hope he has access to, and HEEDS, a more-informed source of information and advice than Scotty Hopson seems to have had!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Vol_In_Ohio:

NBA player comparison:
Jamal Crawford

At least the way he is playing on offense lately. Anyone agree?

To me, the NBA player Jordan most resembles is JR Smith, currently with the Knicks. They are about the same size, including the slim build, and have similar explosive scoring skills. If anything, Jordan seems to be a bit more even-keeled than JR has been, though he seems to have toned down his personality lately--JR, that is!

I do agree that Crawford is really coming into his own, though he is more of a true guard type. Jordan is still more of a wing player who needs to develop his ball-handling a bit more.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

It would be nice for him and Stokes to come back and join Maymon next season. We can only hope right?

Go Vols, beat the Tigers x2!

One factor that could influence Jordan's decision, which I know nothing about, is his family situation. In particular, I don't know how much pressure his family may be putting on him to make big money fast. For example, I don't think Jarnell Stokes is quite ready for the NBA right now, but he doesn't have any pressure to "save" his family economically, so he can make his decision purely on the basis of his personal future. Not sure that is the case with Jordan.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to signalcorps:

just because your being drafted the first round means nothing unless they pay you $20,000,000 or more just for signing your name,,,everything Else is taking a big gamble......

Nobody makes that kind of money as an NBA rookie these days. They have a rookie pay scale that limits them to a max of about $2mil/yr for three years, no matter what pick they are. The chance for really big money comes with the second and subsequent contracts. One of two things often happens with rookies. The first is that they are drafted by bad teams who rush them into action before they are ready and who likely don't have the organizational maturity and mental toughness to win, so the player never has a chance to learn those vital attributes of a successful pro. Most of his teammates are playing for THEIR next contract so they can leave that bad team, so they have no incentive to help a rookie learn the ropes. The second is that they are drafted by GOOD teams that don't need them, so they wind up sitting the bench for most of their first contract and don't have much to show on which to base a lucrative second one, or to get a second one at all. It is pretty tough to walk the right line between those two alternatives, but obviously it IS done by some.

bUTch_please writes:

To echo the Dr -

IF the same pundits who are railing about the down year in the SEC: stumbling KY, blue-collar FL, underachieving Mizzou are promoting you for POY and early exit...might want to take a breath.

Also agree should McRae perform a full year at this recent level, grow more into his body and clean up the ball handling...he will be stone cold first round.

Zo VOLS!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Nobody makes that kind of money as an NBA rookie these days. They have a rookie pay scale that limits them to a max of about $2mil/yr for three years, no matter what pick they are. The chance for really big money comes with the second and subsequent contracts. One of two things often happens with rookies. The first is that they are drafted by bad teams who rush them into action before they are ready and who likely don't have the organizational maturity and mental toughness to win, so the player never has a chance to learn those vital attributes of a successful pro. Most of his teammates are playing for THEIR next contract so they can leave that bad team, so they have no incentive to help a rookie learn the ropes. The second is that they are drafted by GOOD teams that don't need them, so they wind up sitting the bench for most of their first contract and don't have much to show on which to base a lucrative second one, or to get a second one at all. It is pretty tough to walk the right line between those two alternatives, but obviously it IS done by some.

To clarify my remark about the NBA rookie pay scale, the top pick gets more than than the next pick and so on down the line, but the top end is less than it used to be and most of us would be QUITE happy to make what even the last guy picked in the first round gets. The second-round picks are rolling the dice; their contracts are contingent on making the team, which is NOT guaranteed as it is for the first-round picks.

signalcorps writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Nobody makes that kind of money as an NBA rookie these days. They have a rookie pay scale that limits them to a max of about $2mil/yr for three years, no matter what pick they are. The chance for really big money comes with the second and subsequent contracts. One of two things often happens with rookies. The first is that they are drafted by bad teams who rush them into action before they are ready and who likely don't have the organizational maturity and mental toughness to win, so the player never has a chance to learn those vital attributes of a successful pro. Most of his teammates are playing for THEIR next contract so they can leave that bad team, so they have no incentive to help a rookie learn the ropes. The second is that they are drafted by GOOD teams that don't need them, so they wind up sitting the bench for most of their first contract and don't have much to show on which to base a lucrative second one, or to get a second one at all. It is pretty tough to walk the right line between those two alternatives, but obviously it IS done by some.

I'm talking signing bonuses,,,is there a limit on rookie signing bonus(asking),,,,leaving early is a gamble,,,,NBA is a mans world,,,no more mom and dad coaches school administration looking out for you.....

marnel1958 writes:

Though I haven't posted for a while, this screams for my reaction. The ONLY rumblings seems to be coming from these local " writers " who want to create a story instead of reporting on one. Every time a Tennessee athlete has a good season, here come the 'turning pro' questions from the local hacks . . . which in turn gets the undivided attention from the fans who look to these type sites for any nugget of info they can gather about their favorite team. This is what happens when a declining industry looks for ways to be profitable: cut quality for less costly inexperience.

jt45 writes:

Jorden needs another year with the Vols, and the Vols need another year with Jorden.

The media needs to go fishing somewhere else.

SouthernBoiNOLA writes:

Not to be negative, but I haven't seen Mrcrae's name on any of the projected draft boards. While he is having a good season, I don't think that he NBA ready. At 6-5, he would have to have better ball handling skills, and get a lot stronger. I think he has the potential. But then again, Hubbs is coming in next year, and Maymon will be back, so his touches will decrease. This might be his best chance.

VolunteerLifer writes:

He's too thin for the NBA yet. They would push him around unmercifully. Besides, he's just starting to 'get it' on the court. Needs more time to establish his game and show that it is real, not just a flash in the pan.

VOLDoll writes:

Its great to finally have a coach that gets the most out of his players. Sure wasnt the case with Bruce Pearl. lol

johnlg00 writes:

in response to signalcorps:

I'm talking signing bonuses,,,is there a limit on rookie signing bonus(asking),,,,leaving early is a gamble,,,,NBA is a mans world,,,no more mom and dad coaches school administration looking out for you.....

Yes, this includes signing bonuses. In the first place, a signing bonus is irrelevant when a player is drafted as opposed to negotiating for a contract, and it applies to every team and every player.

There are two main reasons for the pay scale. The first is to prevent rookies who haven't played a minute in the league and possibly never will from making more money than all-star players and others who have been productive for years. There are no "can't miss" prospects anymore.

The second is to prevent clueless owners from mortgaging the future of their teams by overpaying rookies (see above). In the past, some rookie owners of bad teams in effect bid against THEMSELVES to overpay rookies to show their present and future ticket buyers that they were really trying to make their teams better, and they often wound up eating those big contracts, since unlike NFL contracts, NBA contracts are guaranteed. The NBA as a league doesn't benefit from shaky ownership situations anywhere, so sometimes owners have to be saved from themselves.

Yet another reason is that the league now has a pretty hard salary cap for each team. Inflated rookie contracts don't leave enough room to pay the veterans every team needs to be real contenders.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to marnel1958:

Though I haven't posted for a while, this screams for my reaction. The ONLY rumblings seems to be coming from these local " writers " who want to create a story instead of reporting on one. Every time a Tennessee athlete has a good season, here come the 'turning pro' questions from the local hacks . . . which in turn gets the undivided attention from the fans who look to these type sites for any nugget of info they can gather about their favorite team. This is what happens when a declining industry looks for ways to be profitable: cut quality for less costly inexperience.

You may have a point there, but relatively unknown college players just suddenly "blow up" in the public consciousness all the time. The NBA looks for talent wherever they can find it. I share the reservations of many as to Jordan's readiness for the NBA, but that doesn't mean it isn't or shouldn't be a topic for conversation, either among college basketball fans or NBA executives. That's just the nature of the sports universe these days.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

He's too thin for the NBA yet. They would push him around unmercifully. Besides, he's just starting to 'get it' on the court. Needs more time to establish his game and show that it is real, not just a flash in the pan.

Well, he's not going to be playing power forward, but I get what you're saying and agree with much of it. For me, this conversation just means that he is being noticed for his play, as is the team to some extent. Besides, with Hubbs coming in and Maymon returning, as other posters have said, he may not get as many touches next year, and the Vols may have an extra scholarship for a great PG. Lots of factors in consideration here, and not all of them are bad, either for Jordan or for the Vols.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

NBA is a tough nut to crack..So many think they have it but don't even make the D league. Chism, Lofton,Prince and J. Smith all were great Vols and game changers but never really sniffed the NBA..Tobias Harris has been with the Bucks awhile and I don't think he avg.s. 2 or 3 PPG. If he gets to see the court at all

Since his trade to Orlando, Tobias is playing quite well and averaging 25+ minutes per game.

clinton_vol writes:

I like this kids attitude. Team first self second we need more kids like him. He will do well i n the league if he can maintain that attitude. I would however love to see him stay another year. For himself and the program. I would love to see him, stokes and maymon on the floor at the same time with an adequate point guard.

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