April 18, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once said, “100 percent of the shots taken don’t go in.”
Kellen McCormick never had a problem hesitating in the face of a good shot when he had it. The longer the better.
A career 42.0 percent shooter in three years at Western Michigan, McCormick, a 6-7, 211-pound forward, decided to take the longest shot of his life on July 12, 2016, enrolling at Georgia Tech as a graduate transfer for the 2016-17 season. It wasn’t easy to leave Michigan, his home state and the state he loves, and Kalamazoo, where he’d been a key role player for the Broncos, who came out of nowhere to win 23 games and make the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14, Kellen’s freshman season.
But the lure of the ACC was irresistible. It was that wide open look — something he just couldn’t pass up and frequently converted.
“Part of the reason I came here was because I wanted the ACC experience,” he said. “I wanted to be at a high-major school, I wanted to be in a great program, with a beautiful locker room, chartered (flights) everywhere, go play at Cameron Indoor, play Notre Dame, play North Carolina, just travel and see all those things.
“Going into the year my expectations were different. When I went into this season I was just trying to take everything in,” he continued. “I have a lot more snapshots. I tried to kind of slow down before every game, just take a deep breath and take in the environment. So this season definitely will have a special spot. It was very special.”
McCormick seemingly had a telephoto lens when taking his jumpshot. He converted 75 percent of his shots (12-of-16), shooting a video game-like 73.3 percent from three-point range (11-of-15). His lone non-three-point shot field goal in the season-opener against Tennessee Tech, his first shot at McCamish Pavilion. That, evidently was enough for him to get the range, as he didn’t take another shot from inside the arc the rest of the season. In five games he was perfect from the floor, including a 3-for-3 game in a season-high 18 minutes against Tusculum on Feb. 7. For the season he was 9-for-11 at McCamish Pavilion (8-for-10 from three-point range).
“That’s what I do. I like to think I’m a shooter,” said Kellen, whose game is quite a departure from that of his dad, Tim, a bruising 6-11, 240-pound center at the University of Michigan, then with six NBA teams over eight seasons after being selected 12th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1984 NBA Draft. “I always pride myself on taking good shots and taking makeable shots. I put in my time to make sure my shot was up to the standards I expect. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. I took the shots that I thought were good shots, and I made them. That what I work on in the gym all the time.”
That work paid off on Dec. 28, 2016, when McCormick came off the bench firing, scoring 12 points in 17 minutes, going 4-for-5 from three-point range to spark a second-half comeback in Tech’s 59-52 win over North Carolina A&T. Three of those came in a 4:30 span midway through the second half, and the last one came with 1:29 remaining and the Jackets clinging to a one-point lead.
Playing the hero didn’t surprise McCormick.
“I’ve been there before. There were multiple games where I’ve reached that zone,” he said. “It was really cool that I had the opportunity to help the team when it needed it. We had great players on our team. There are just certain times that you need somebody else to step up. Coach gave me an opportunity, and I feel like I stepped up and did what he needed me to do.
“He preached from the beginning of the season the importance of everybody staying ready, even if you’re not playing heavy minutes,” he added. “You need to always have that mindset because that keeps you mentally sharp, it keeps your skills sharp. I listened to him, I worked all year from start to end. That one kind of stands out because it was a much closer game than we had hoped and I stepped up and knocked down a couple of shots.”
He’d stay ready as the Jackets got on a postseason roll, which they took all the way to New York City and the NIT championship game.
“It was an unbelievable season. It was a great experience,” he said. “The thing that stuck out to me the most was just the group of guys. It’s amazing that you can take coaches from multiple different programs and you have an incoming class of freshmen and you’ve got guys from an old staff, you’ve got fifth-year transfers — just kind of a hodge podge of a bunch of different people — and we’re all brought together. It amazed me the way everybody clicked. I’ve never been on a more cohesive team. It was a special year. It was a special group of guys and I’ll definitely never forget it.
“No one really knew how good we could be when the ACC started, and we beat North Carolina, and I think everybody kind of surprised themselves a little bit,” he added. “We were like, `Okay, we can do this.’ Just the cohesion of the group that I was a part of this year and the work ethic and just the energy and effort…Coach (Pastner) did a great job coaching energy and effort. His enthusiasm was just contagious, and we really fed off him this year. When you see somebody that’s SO intense and wants it SO bad for you, you have to have that seem feeling.”
McCormick had to put the euphoria of the season on the back-burner once he came back to Atlanta as the reality of academics returned. He didn’t mind playing catch-up.
“I’m still trying to get my head above water,” he said, with a laugh. “With that run at the end you certainly miss a lot of class. My professors have been phenomenal about trying to help me get caught up and help me with missed material, missed notes.”
McCormick, who is studying in building construction and facility management, will take two classes over the summer to complete his studies, but will be allowed to participate in May commencement.
Getting his degree is the icing on the cake and completes the academic portion of what has been a remarkable year.
“That’s another reason why I came to Tech,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal degree, and they have a great support staff that helps us with everything as far as classes go. It’s been a phenomenal experience. It has just been a great year.”
Kellen isn’t sure what’s next, but as he’s showed throughout his basketball career, all he needs is the slightest opening.
“Right now I’m looking to get into something with business consulting and just kind of see where that takes me, but definitely something in business,” he said. “I’m not sure specifically yet, but I’ve applied to a couple of consulting companies. Right now, I’m just sending my resume out as much as I can.
“You know beggars can’t be choosers,” he added with a laugh. “I’d like to work somewhere in Michigan. That’s where my family’s from, that’s where I grew up and I love Michigan. But, if I get an offer down here I’d have to strongly consider it. I’ll just kind of keep looking for a job and see where things take me.”