Nearly nine months ago, JaVale McGee thought his NBA career was over at 27.
The Philadelphia 76ers bought out McGee’s contract on March 1 in part because they never could fix the stress fracture in his left tibia that has been dogging the 7-foot, 270-pound center for almost two years.
It was extremely frustrating not knowing if I was ever going to play again.
Mavericks center JaVale McGee
And when no one signed McGee for the playoff stretch run last season, he began to wonder if his basketball career was over.
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“It was extremely frustrating not knowing if I was ever going to play again,” McGee said Monday. “It was to that point when I got bought out by Philly, just because we just didn’t know what to expect and things were taking a while.”
Then the center-starved Dallas Mavericks signed him to a one-year contract on Aug. 13 for $1,270,964.
He can be a big factor, there’s no doubt about that, with his length and skill level and ability to affect shots defensively.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle
The Mavs were impressed with McGee’s athleticism and ability to protect the rim.
“He can be a big factor, there’s no doubt about that, with his length and skill level and ability to affect shots defensively,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Monday’s practice at the FedEx Forum. “He’s got a chance to be a guy that can really help us.”
McGee entered this season with career averages of 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in19.9 minutes per game. The stress fracture limited him to just 28 out of a possible 164 games over the past two years.
And how did McGee’s stress fracture originate?
McGee missed the Mavericks’ seven preseason games and the first 12 regular-season games because of injury.
“Just playing basketball, that’s what happened,” McGee said. “This is just wear and tear. It became sore and then it was too hard to bear. The soreness is not how it used to be.”
But that soreness forced McGee to sit out training camp and miss the Mavs’ seven preseason games. He also missed the team’s first 12 regular-season games.
However, when McGee finally played his first game with the Mavs on Sunday night in Oklahoma City, he showed them a sample of how dominant he can be.
In 11 minutes against the Thunder, McGee produced eight points and six rebounds, and was 4-of-5 from the field. His activity around the basket was noticeable.
“He’s got a good feel on how to roll and find the open spots, and he was active on the boards,” guard Devin Harris said. “It’s still a work in progress as far as what we want defensively, but I think offensively he’s got a good feel for what we want.
Both of McGee’s parents played professional basketball.
“He’s definitely going to be somebody we’re looking at to protect the rim. He’s got a good feel on how to body-up on guys and he’ll get more of a feel for the game because he hasn’t played for a year-and-a-half.”
McGee’s father, George Montgomery, was a second-round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1985, and played professional basketball overseas until 1996. But he never played in the NBA.
McGee credits his mother, Pamela McGee, for his NBA career taking shape. Pamela McGee was an All-American basketball player at USC, won an Olympic gold medal in 1984, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 WNBA Draft and played in the WNBA for the Los Angeles Sparks and Sacramento Monarchs.
“She taught me a lot, most of it, to tell the truth,” McGee said. “She was a post player, so she taught me all the post moves. She also taught me the guard moves, because she was always scared I was going to stop growing at 6-7, 6-8. And she didn’t want me to be a 6-7, 6-8 center, so she would teach me guard moves.”
McGee, in fact, is the first son of a WNBA player to play in the NBA.
“I’ve been that for eight years now, so it’s not really that special anymore,” McGee said. “I don’t think there’s another one, to tell the truth.”
This is just the beginning for him.
The Mavs, who play the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the FedEx Forum, believe they’ve stumbled onto a gemstone in McGee. They believe his performance against OKC was a teaser to much bigger and better things.
“This is just the beginning for him,” Carlisle said. “He finished some plays off [against OKC] and he was impressive doing that.
“To get very little practice time, and he had no exhibition games and he’s been playing no game action. So we’ve got to work him into what we’re doing at both ends of the court and make sure he really knows everything we need to do.”
From McGee’s standpoint, he’s just delighted to have another chance to play in the NBA. It’s been his livelihood since he was a first-round draft choice (the 18th overall pick) by the Washington Wizards in 2008.
“I went to yoga this morning and then I just got done with practice, so I’m good,” McGee said. “I didn’t sign with Dallas until almost when the season had started. It makes you think about stuff. So it’s definitely a blessing to be here.”
Mavericks at Grizzlies
7 p.m. Tuesday, FSSW