Every year, USA Basketball names a “Male Athlete of the Year.” The names on that list are almost all household ones, like LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal. The winners over the last couple years are all NBA talents, like Kevin Durant in 2010, Jabari Parker 2011, LeBron James in 2012 and Aaron Gordon in 2013.
But one name sticks out like a sore thumb. In fact, without an official press release from USA Basketball on the matter, you might think some rouge Carolina fan made this up by hacking Wikipedia. But in 2009, the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year was James Michael McAdoo.
From that press release, here is the reasoning behind McAdoo’s selection. “McAdoo averaged team second-bests of 16.8 ppg. and 8.6 rpg. and a team-leading 2.0 bpg. to help the USA to a perfect, 5-0 record in the inaugural FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Mendoza, Argentina. Perhaps most importantly, the finish qualified the USA for next summer’s 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship. ‘James was one of our team captains and a leader for us on and off the court as the U16 team dominated the competition in Argentina,’ said Don Showalter, 2009-10 USA Men’s Developmental National Team head coach and the 2009 USA Basketball Developmental Coach of the Year. ‘James was a quiet leader who drew the respect of teammates and opposing players with his energy and hard work. He is one of those elite players that has the ability to make everyone around him a better player.’”
McAdoo was the youngest recipient of the award at the time, only 16 years of age. McAdoo is now 21 years old, and hasn’t fulfilled the high expectations that came with winning that award. After departing North Carolina in 2014 a year early to enter the NBA Draft, McAdoo went undrafted and signed with the Golden State Warriors to play in the NBA Summer League. Once a projected lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, McAdoo is left with second guesses of past decisions and questions of what the future holds.
James Michael McAdoo was born in Norfolk, Virginia. His parents, Ronnie and Janet, both played college basketball at Old Dominion in the late 1970s and were a familiar site at the Dean E. Smith Center as they cheered on James Michael. JMM attended Norfolk Christian High School and was rated the sixth best prospect by ESPN in 2011. UConn, Florida, Georgetown and Wake Forest pushed hard in their recruitment of McAdoo, but he signed at UNC on 11/11/2010 and entered Chapel Hill in the fall of 2011.
Expectations were sky high for that 2011-12 team, which featured eight McDonalds All-Americans. Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes led the Tar Heels team that was a favorite to win the National Championship before the season started. But a late injury to Kendall Marshall in the NCAA Tournament derailed those hopes, and with Stilman White at point guard, the Tar Heels bowed out to Kansas in the Elite Eight.
In that game, James Michael McAdoo led all Tar Heel scorers with 15 points. He was 6-8 from the field and 3-3 from the charity stripe in just 19 minutes of action. The future looked bright for McAdoo, and his draft stock soared after the game and would never reach that high a level again. McAdoo somewhat surprisingly turned down the NBA after his freshman season, but Tar Heel fans were happy. Four players from that 2011-12 season would be picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, and McAdoo was expected to lead the next crop of Tar Heel recruits back to the Final Four.
His sophomore season in 2012-13 was a little better, but McAdoo never quite broke out to become the player like he had shown flashes of against Kansas in 2012. McAdoo played twice as many minutes and assumed the role of number one offensive option in the post, but the Tar Heels again bowed out to Kansas in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. McAdoo struggled mightily with free throws, shooting 57.8% from the line. Again, McAdoo rejected the NBA in order to return to the Tar Heels for another season.
He probably would have been selected in the first round had he left after his sophomore season, but he didn’t, and the Tar Heels leaned on McAdoo in an up and down 2013-14 campaign. Marcus Paige assumed the role of star and savior, while McAdoo struggled to stand out and find his shot at the free throw line. His stats from his sophomore to junior seasons look awfully similar:
McAdoo, 2012-2013: 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.5 steals
McAdoo, 2013-2014: 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.3 steals
The lack of improvement from season to season was one of the big reasons why McAdoo’s draft stock kept dropping game after game in Chapel Hill. McAdoo would always have his one highlight steal and dunk. Here are two examples from his sophomore and junior seasons.
But McAdoo really struggled to attack the basket throughout his time in Chapel Hill, leaning on his fadeaway jumper and athleticism to get buckets instead of fine tuning an array of post moves or a reliable jumper. He disappeared for stretches during games as Marcus Paige and Roy Williams struggled to find the best way to use McAdoo’s unique skills. And his poor free throw shooting was a major pain in the side for Tar Heel fans last season.
The end result for McAdoo was a departure from UNC after his junior year. He wasn’t expected to go in the first round, but seemed to be a lock for a second round selection. In the end, however, his name was never called on draft night and McAdoo was added to the list of cautionary tales of players who returned to school after rejecting the NBA.
So what does the future hold for McAdoo? Nobody quite knows if he can make it in the NBA. But one things for sure- he will never quite live up to the expectations placed upon him after he won the USA Basketball Player of the Year award in 2009. JMM signed with Golden State’s NBA Summer League roster and will fight for minutes and the opportunity to showcase himself in Orlando and Las Vegas this month. A strong showing will likely land McAdoo a training camp invite and possibly a spot on the end of an NBA bench come the start of the regular season.
But McAdoo has a lot of work to do before he can think about starting or even sticking on an NBA roster. A stint in the D-League with a good coach would probably be a blessing for James Michael, where he can learn a jump shot and a cohesive offensive game without the pressures that come for playing at Carolina or in the NBA.
I’m not ready to completely rule out the NBA for McAdoo just yet, however. He has great quickness for a big man and would be a matchup nightmare for the opposing teams. He is too big for guards and too quick for big men defensively, but the solution for NBA defenses would be to just abandon McAdoo on the perimeter and dare him to shoot a jumper. He also doesn’t quite fit positionally in the NBA- he is labeled as a tweener, not really a big man or a guard. That’s same situation that knocked ACC opponent Jerami Grant out of the first round in the draft.
Europe is also probably an enticing option that McAdoo and his agent have explored. Both of McAdoo’s parents played professionally abroad, and he and his new wife could find a steady salary and situation if they are comfortable living abroad. Regardless of where McAdoo ends up, he will be playing professional basketball somewhere next season. He is too talented and someone will always be willing to take a chance on the 6’9” power forward.
Look at McAdoo above in his profile video for the 2009 USA Development Team. McAdoo, wearing number 12, flies around the floor and seems to be jumping a step higher and moving a step quicker than everyone else. One second, he is making a rim shattering dunk, the next minute, he flies in to block an opposing player’s shot. Some things never change: at the 54 second mark, McAdoo makes his trademark steal and finish at the other end.
At the 2:07 mark in the video, McAdoo offers a closing quote. “Back home, I have a list of goals, and one of those goals is to be an Olympic gold medalist. That would just be a dream come true.”
Its sad to think now that McAdoo will never get to be the star of an Olympic team like he was in 2009 at the U16 FIBA Championships. We know what the past has brought McAdoo: USA Basketball Player of the Year awards, three good years at Carolina and lots of success on the basketball court. But what the future holds is still up in the air.