The Ottumwa Courier

November 15, 2013

Former Warrior McKay returns to his 'second home' state

By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Jameel McKay found himself in a very familiar location taking in a very unfamiliar perspective last weekend.

After two years of playing at an All-American level for the Indian Hills basketball team, McKay made his return to the Hellyer Student Life Center last Saturday for the Reed Overhead Doors Classic.

There were several familiar aspects to McKay’s return to the arena he called home for the past two years. He walked in on game day, went down to locker room and even fired up the entire Indian Hills basketball team before they hit the floor.

This time, however, McKay wasn’t hitting the floor in his Indian Hills uniform and warm-up suit. He instead had to watch from the stands and off on the sidelines while the Warriors prepared for a top-15 national showdown with the College of Southern Idaho.

“It’s definitely a different perspective,” McKay said. “It’s a little tough to sit back here and not be out there playing. I miss it.”

McKay continued to look on Saturday as the 2013-14 Warrior basketball team had its most impressive outing yet early in the season, running away with a 122-87 rout of the visiting Golden Eagles. After pulling in 20 rebounds in an overtime loss to CSI last season, McKay was quite impressed with just how good his former team looks after just its fourth game.

“They got a lot of great contributions from the bench. They had the kind of shot blocking we didn’t have last year,” McKay said. “They’re going up and down. They got guards that can pass and score. They can create mismatches all around.”

It was impressive, but for McKay it wasn’t unexpected. Just as he promised he would at the end of last season, McKay has kept up to date with everything the Warriors have been up to even after graduating from the school.

“I’ve talked to Coach (Barrett) Peery and he’s been telling me all along how good that the team chemistry is,” McKay said. “You can tell that when they’re playing out there. They really like playing with each other.”

It was enough to make McKay want to put on that Warrior jersey again.

“I would have loved a chance to play with these guys (at Indian Hills),” McKay said. “It was fun to watch. It did bring back some of that same adrenaline like back when I was a player here, but it was also fun to just kind of be a cheerleader this time.”

It will be a little while until McKay can experience the adrenaline of being a college basketball player. Since departing IHCC after last season, the Milwaukee native has experienced plenty of change that has led him back to Iowa.

Just days before coming to watch Indian Hills last weekend, McKay announced his verbal commitment to attend Iowa State University and play for Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclone squad. The Marquette transfer can’t wait to get back on a basketball floor decked out in ISU cardinal and gold.

“Playing in front of the Cyclone fans, including a lot of those same fans that watched me here at Indian Hills, is what I’m looking forward to the most,” McKay said. “Playing for Coach Hoiberg and an NBA offense — I can’t wait for it.”

According to McKay, a difference in philosophy with Marquette head coach Buzz Williams led him to make the huge decision to leave the Golden Eagles just before his junior season could get underway. Because of ISU’s lack of an available scholarship and the NCAA guidelines requiring transfers to sit out a year, McKay will have to sacrifice half of his junior year and won’t be able to resume his college basketball career until midway through next season.

The opportunity to play in an offense similar to that run by Peery at Indian Hills, which McKay thrived in, was a positive aspect that outweighed all the negatives in making the decision to transfer.

“That played a huge part in my decision to go (to Iowa State),” McKay said. “It’s a chance to play in a system that I’m used to.”

The decision to leave Marquette meant McKay was willing to leave a school in his hometown of Milwaukee. Returning to Iowa after spending two productive years in Ottumwa, however, put McKay at peace with the decision.

“This is like my home away from home,” McKay said of Iowa. “It’s become my second home state.”

With no on-court game action in McKay’s future until next year, the former Warrior post presence has designs on developing more facets to his game while learning how to produce when he will finally be eligible again midway through next year. McKay will be allowed to work out and practice with the Cyclones, which in the end may just make this big decision to transfer to Iowa State the best decision he’s ever made.

“It will hurt a little knowing I could be out there helping them this year, but I look at it like it’ll be better for me in the long run,” McKay said. “I get a year in without using up my eligibility to get better as a player.”

And when McKay does hit the floor as an Iowa State Cyclone, he’ll be reuniting for another former IHCC star. Dustin Hogue, who teamed up with McKay to produce the team that went 59-8 over Peery’s first two seasons at Indian Hills, is currently standing out early in his junior season at Iowa State.

“I can’t wait to play with Dustin again,” McKay said.

For now, McKay is always welcomed to reunite with his former team and his former coach at Indian Hills. Sophomore Majok Deng, a Warrior teammate with McKay last year, was certainly happy to hear that McKay would be making a trip down to watch his current IHCC team last weekend.

“He messaged me earlier in the week that he was coming down,” Deng said. “He’s pretty excited. It was really great that he was back.”

“It was good to see Jameel again here,” Peery said. “Our guys are all family and I’ve always preached that. Once a Warrior, always a Warrior. It’s fun to have him here.”

To follow Scott Jackson's Twitter feed, go to @stjack423