PORTLAND, Ore. — This NCAA Tournament could be Wendell McKines’s chance to make the college basketball world remember his name.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder is still a relative unknown — as most stars in mid-major conferences tend to be before March — but his numbers suggest he’s capable of breaking out at the Big Dance. He led the WAC in both scoring and rebounding this season. He had more than 13 rebounds in four of his last five games and averaged 21.3 points to win MVP honors at the WAC Tournament.
“I don’t think Wendell McKines takes a backseat to anyone,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “He’s one of the better undersized, but also undervalued forwards probably in the country. He can score. He can shoot the ball. When you look at his numbers over a four-year period of time, incredible the rise he has made statistically.”
Of course, even if McKines doesn’t have a breakout tournament, the reporters who gathered in Portland on Wednesday will simply remember him for his press conference.
A reporter asked him about the swagger the Aggies seem to have, and what part McKines plays in it.
“I don’t have a swagger,” he said. “I have an aura about me. You can just feel the energy. So ‘swagger,’ I wouldn’t necessarily use that word. Just the aura in my presence. And you can feel like something special is about to happen. That’s a better word for it, ‘aura.’”
After complementing Indiana’s transition game, saying IU’s Cody Zeller “runs like a deer,” McKines was asked what it meant to him to know that Indiana was fully aware of his statistics and planned to focus on him.
“I’m a middle child,” McKines said “So I enjoy the attention.”
McKines was later asked if he thought the comparisons that Crean and other IU players made to Draymond Green was accurate.
“It depends on where you look at it,” McKines said. “From rebounding and scoring and from it means a lot to the team perspective, yeah. But I don’t really like to compare myself to nobody. I’m special.”
When New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies followed McKines on to the podium, he wasn’t surprised that his fifth-year senior had been working the room. But he also said that wasn’t always the case.
“He’s just really grown up since he came to the university,” Menzies said. “I don’t think he wanted to say boo and was just kind of ’Dang, I have to talk to the media?’ He went all the way from there to ‘When is the next interview?’”
That’s just part of McKines’s general personal growth since his arrival in Las Cruces. He had to miss part of the 2009-10 campaign because of academic suspension, but has been better focused on the books since.
“He loves life, man,” Menzies said. “He loves life. Wendell is a special person and player. Obviously, you guys got a chance to visit with him for a few moments. Imagine spending five years with him. I’ve had a lot of laughs with that kid. He’s my first recruit. and he was the first player that I signed as a head coach. We’ve got a very special bond. I’m going to miss him a lot. So I’m hoping to keep him around a few more days and weeks hopefully.”
Keeping him around means knocking off a No. 4 seed and a college basketball blueblood in Indiana, but the Aggies almost knocked off Michigan State two years ago, and McKines said he walks into this matchup with no fear.
“Teams that are intimidated and infatuated by playing bigger name schools,” McKines said, “those are the teams that lose by 40.”