MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University guard Jordan McCabe played quite a bit on a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee last season, then had surgery to correct the problem in April.
McCabe is back and ready to contribute as a sophomore for the Mountaineers as WVU prepares to leave this weekend for a 10-day, three-game tour of Spain. The process of getting back to full speed, however, has been slow-moving and perhaps even a little frustrating for the former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball.
“It’s kind of like a roller coaster,” McCabe said. “It’s up and down. Some days it’s good, some days it’s bad. I did three hours straight the last two practices, so that’s a positive. Huggs [WVU coach Bob Huggins] wants to make sure my wind is at the point where I can play at the level I want to be at — a higher level than last year. We’re just trying to get the swelling out at this point. It feels good.”
It took some time for McCabe to find his way as a freshman for the Mountaineers. His game was inconsistent as West Virginia’s season spiraled out of control and the losses kept piling up, but something clicked late in the season and the freshman began to play at a much high level. That lined up with the Mountaineers going on a bit of a run in the Big 12 tournament, where they entered the week in Kansas City as the last-place No. 10 seed but knocked off Oklahoma and eventual national finalist Texas Tech on their way to a semifinal appearance.
As it turned out, McCabe was playing injured. Between the attrition that saw upperclassman guard Beetle Bolden, who has since transferred to Alabama, leave the team late in the year and a little stubbornness on his own part, there was no way he was going to sit out voluntarily. As a freshman, he appeared in 35 games while averaging 5.8 points and 2.5 assists.
“My father told me something when I was really young coming up,” McCabe said. “When I would get sick or get banged up or whatever, if I’d go out there and I didn’t play great, he’d look at me at halftime and go, ‘Hey, nobody cares.’ So I told myself if I’m going to play, I’m going to play. He helped me through with a lot of that stuff even last year, and that’s truly the case. Nobody really cares if you’re hurt or not, go out and play as hard as you can.”
In addition to the on-again, off-again struggles with his knee, McCabe appeared Thursday prior to WVU’s practice with a torn practice jersey and scratches on his face and neck.
“When you play for West Virginia, that comes with the territory,” McCabe said. “Actually Chase [Harler] did this to me. He scratched me and stuff like that, so he should probably cut his finger nails. Other than that, it’s been a good eight practices. We’ve been aggressive and guys are getting after it.
“We’re in a place right now where we feel like guys are competing, guys are trying to get each other better. We’re mentally in a 10-times better state than we were at any point last season, and towards the end we were in a pretty good spot. We’re excited to go kind of grow together over in Spain for the next 10 days and then just have that jump start on this season.”
Huggins re-emphasized just how vital McCabe, along with fellow sophomores Emmitt Matthews and Derek Culver, will be to West Virginia’s attempt to bounce back this season during his time with the media on Thursday.
The veteran WVU coach brought up the decision to participate in the College Basketball Invitational tournament after falling to Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals, saying the entire point of playing in that tournament was to get his young players more game experience.
“The more they have an opportunity to play, the more ready they’re going to be the following year, and those are our leaders,” Huggins said. “They are, without a question, our leaders. When you look at it really, the core — you’ve got Jordan, you’ve got Emmitt and you’ve got Derek. Now, Chase has been great, but I’m talking about the young guys coming in. Chase has been great and Logan [Routt] has been great, but those three guys have got to be good for us early.”