ROAD LESS TRAVELED: Deuce McBride's NBA path was paved through hard work, not hype

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Jul. 29—MORGANTOWN — Deuce McBride's journey to the NBA Draft was not filled with 5-star recruiting rankings and whispers of one-and-done college seasons.

To be sure, Thursday's 8 p.m. draft at Brooklyn's Barclays Center (ESPN, ABC) is filled with prospects who lived that life, from potential No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham out of Oklahoma State, as well as Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs and Duke forward Jalen Johnson.

McBride, the former West Virginia standout projected to go late in the first round, took the path less-traveled ; the blue-collar path, if you will.

"If you look at any good college player and the elite college players, what separates them is their work ethic, " WVU men's basketball coach Erik Martin said. "Deuce is a gym rat. That's what made him successful. His work ethic in college was right there with Jevon Carter, and that is one hell of a compliment."

If you went simply by the number of McBride's recruiting stars, he would likely be preparing for his junior season with the Mountaineers today.

To be sure, no one on WVU's staff knew exactly what they had with the 6-foot-2 point guard out of Cincinnati's Archbishop Moeller High School when he arrived on campus in 2019.

"Honestly, we sort of felt when he first came in that he was going to be a good player for us by his junior year, " Martin said. "We certainly didn't have him pegged to be NBA-ready by the end of his sophomore season."

McBride was a three-star recruit, one that saw many schools back away from him when McBride broke his left foot as a junior playing football.

That injury cost him most of his junior season in basketball, too. McBride only returned to the court in time to play two games.

It just happened to be the two biggest games—the state tournament semifinals and finals—and McBride had 14 points in the state championship win against Solon.

He gave up football and concentrated on basketball the next year. By that time, McBride had already committed to the Mountaineers, but the recruiting world had already passed him by.

Even in leading Moeller to an undefeated record and another state title as a senior, the college basketball world was already too busy salivating over prospects like James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards and, even locally in Morgantown, Oscar Tshiebwe.

McBride was the "other " freshman in WVU's 2019 recruiting class, but he eventually made his mark.

That actually began in the summer of 2019, when the Mountaineers played three games in Spain before the season.

McBride's all-around play showed promise, to the point where WVU head coach Bob Huggins wouldn't be afraid to use McBride in WVU's rotation.

"Deuce makes a lot of the right plays, " Huggins said in 2019. "He makes a lot of the right reads and has good athleticism."

Most basketball experts will point to WVU's 67-59 victory in Cleveland against No. 2 Ohio State as McBride's coming-out party.

He had 21 points in 25 minutes off the bench and shot 3-of-4 from 3-point range. By the second half, Huggins had decided to put the Mountaineers' fortunes in McBride's hands and let him be the one to create or score through the sets they ran.

Martin, though, disagrees at McBride's breakout moment.

"I actually look a few weeks earlier when we played Northern Iowa in that tournament in Cancun, " Martin said. "Deuce put us on his back and led us to victory that game.

"To me, that's when I felt we really had someone special. The Ohio State game just kind of confirmed it."

As a sophomore, McBride took the jump in college that NBA coaches and scouts want to see.

His 3-point shooting improved 11 percentage points. His free-throw shooting improved and his assist-to-turnover ratio was one of the best in the Big 12.

"A lot of the NBA guys I've talked to tell me that Deuce's analytics are through the roof, " Martin said. "It's a numbers game now more than ever, and when you look at how much better Deuce's numbers got as a sophomore, NBA guys noticed."

As a freshman, McBride's averaged 1.4 assists per every turnover he committed. A season later, that number improved to 2.6.

"NBA guys want a point guard who is going to be 2-to-1 or 3-to-1, " Martin said. "Deuce is right there, somewhere around 2.5. The scouts I talked to always mentioned that about him."

So, where does McBride actually fit in Thursday's draft ?

Coming out of last month's NBA Combine, McBride's stock had risen from consensus second-round pick to a late-first round projection.

That was enough for McBride to announce on July 3 that he was keeping his name in the draft and forgoing the rest of his college eligibility.

"Deuce's path to the NBA is unique, but that's what makes him a good story, " Martin said. "He wasn't the highly recruited kid. He had to work his way up and learn how to become a great leader.

"He got to where he is, because he worked harder than everyone else, not because he was better than everyone else."

Since the combine, there were projections that McBride would be picked by the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 22.

That rumor has seemed to cool off, though, as more recent projections have the Lakers taking former Baylor star Jared Butler with that pick.

The latest mock drafts have McBride still slated as a late first-rounder, although ESPN has him projected to go to the Milwaukee Bucks with the first pick of the second round.

If McBride were to slip out of the first round, it could mean his gamble to leave college early did not pay off.

Second-round picks are not guaranteed a contract and McBride would have to make the team during training camp.

If McBride is picked in the first round, he would earn a two-year guaranteed contract worth at least $3.3 million over those years, according to the NBA rookie salary scale.

"I'm a Lakers fan, so I would love for him to go to L.A., " said Martin, who is from the Los Angeles area. "If not L.A., then maybe somewhere closer to Morgantown so I can go see him play."

TWEET @bigjax3211 WHERE CAN DEUCE GO ?

Where some of the top mock drafts have WVU guard Deuce McBride projected in the 2021 NBA Draft. The first round consists of 30 picks:

FOX Sports: No. 21 to New York.

SBNation: No. 25 to the L.A. Clippers.

Sports Illustrated: No. 27 to New Jersey.

CBS Sports: No. 27 to New Jersey.

NBADraft.net: No. 28 to Philadelphia.

Bleacher Report: No. 29 to Phoenix.

247Sports: No. 30 to Utah.

ESPN: No. 31 to Milwaukee.

Yahoo sports: No. 31 to Milwaukee.

WVU FIRST-ROUND HISTORY 1952: Mark Workman (1st overall) to the Milwaukee Hawks.

1957: Rod Hundley (1st overall) to the Cincinnati Royals.

1960: Jerry West (2nd overall) to the Minneapolis Lakers.

1963: Rod Thorn (2nd overall) to the Baltimore Bullets.

1968: Fritz Williams (9th overall) to the San Francisco Warriors.

2008: Joe Alexander (8th overall) to the Milwaukee Bucks.

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