Sport

Melbourne United and Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard Jordan McRae on college basketball, prayers and doing it for his kids. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: RICHARD COOKE

Sharp shooter: Jordan McRae, 23, basketballer

When I started off, I wanted to be in the NBA because I wanted to play alongside LeBron [James]. Now I want to do it for my kids. The stakes are still huge. That fire hasn’t left, but now being on court with LeBron is not so important as being able to come home to my kids, and taking them to their first day of school.

I still try to watch the US basketball games every week – NBA and college. My old school and some other games typically come on Saturday morning here, about 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning. I watch for enjoyment a lot of the time, but I also look at different players and the things they do. I feel like if I want to be good at something, be really good, I have to look for somebody who’s already taken all those steps.

College basketball is tough. For people in Australia who don’t know, the NBA only takes about 45 players from college every year. A lot of guys who come out of high school and go to the college system now get drafted in the top five. Most college guys, their ultimate goal is to get to the NBA.

On the court I’m somebody and then off the court I’m somebody else. Half my teammates laugh and joke all the time. They always want to play around, off the court. On the court, you know, I’m serious. I’m intense. Some people may take my being intense the wrong way, but I just really want to win. If I’m not playing out there to win? No point being there.

Josh Childress is somebody who was an inspiration to me. It’s every player’s dream to play against an NBA player who’s achieved so much. It’s fun to see what that feels like.

Some guys who move from the NBA to this [Australian NBL] league will try to look down on it. But I feel like Josh is playing hard. He’s intense out there and he’s fighting. It speaks volumes about his character.

I didn’t play high school basketball until my 10th grade year. Before then it was baseball. I just got really tall, and a lot of people were telling me how good I was. My parents didn’t even think I was good enough to get offered college, but I did. I’m the kind of guy who works hard. I’ve never had anything handed to me.

When I’m not playing basketball, it’s the last thing I want to even talk about. A lot of guys live, eat and breathe basketball. When I’m off the court and at home, I want to just be at home. I want to watch TV just, you know, live as if I don’t play.

But if I didn’t do this for a job I would still be the kind of guy who’s playing at the gym. At the YMCA or whatever. I would still play every day. I love the game of basketball. I mean, if you don’t love your work, I feel like you shouldn’t do it. That’s how I see it.

I pray before every game. That’s just something I do. I pray for no hurt or harm to either team. I pray that I play to the best of my ability. I pray for my teammates. 

When I first came to Australia, I knew the league was good. It was more other stuff off the court I didn’t know about. I just didn’t expect some of the older guys, those 30-plus guys, to be just like kids outside of basketball. They have fun. Going to an older team for the first time was so different. The oldest players at college are 22. Coming here I was thinking I was going to be serious all the time, but outside the game it’s kids having fun.

This week’s highlights…

• Tennis: Australian Open 

Finishes tomorrow, Melbourne Park

• Soccer: Asian Cup final South Korea v Australia

Tonight, 8pm, Stadium Australia, Sydney

• Cricket: ODI Tri-Series final

Tomorrow, 2.20pm AEDT, WACA Ground, Perth

• Cycling: Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Today, elite women; tomorrow, elite men, Geelong start

• Herald Sun Tour

February 4-8, Melbourne and regional Victoria

• Track cycling: Jack Bobridge hour record attempt

Today, 7pm, Darebin International Sports Centre, Melbourne

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 31, 2015 as "Sharp shooter". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.