Quinnipiac received a significant boost to their backcourt earlier this month when they received a verbal commitment from Westchester Community College standout Giovanni McLean.
The 6’1” combo guard was originally set to join Oklahoma, but a rule specific to the Big 12 which would have forced McLean to sit out an additional season led him to de-commit. McLean officially signed his national letter of intent to Quinnipiac Wednesday afternoon.
The addition of McLean, who will have two years of eligibility remaining in Hamden, immediately replaces the void of experience in the backcourt left by the departures of Umar and Shaq Shannon.
“One of the things that we had identified as a need in the spring was trying to get a little older in the backcourt,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “We’re thrilled to get Gio. I think he brings that extra experience playing at a real high junior college level to the backcourt. I really like his toughness and demeanor on the court. He plays like a veteran and I think he’s going to help us offensively a great deal. Certainly he’ll be a great replacement for some of the stuff we lost with Umar and Shaq.”
In his junior college career, McLean displayed tremendous ability both scoring and distributing the ball. As a freshman at Moberly Community College in Missouri, McLean averaged 9.1 ppg. After sitting out the 2012-13 season while recovering from knee surgery, McLean returned to form in the 2013-14 season when he averaged 16.8 ppg, 7.4 apg, and 4.6 rpg for Westchester CC.
His ability to play the point will provide support for sophomore Kasim Chandler, who was penciled into next year’s starting point guard role. Chandler averaged 2.7 apg as a freshman last year, but missed nine games near the end of the year with a toe injury. He returned in the MAAC tournament and recorded seven assists to just one turnover in the Bobcats’ semifinal loss to eventual MAAC champion Manhattan.
“I think Gio will bring a lot of quality to our point guard position, and I think he can also play off the ball as well when we play two point guards together,” Moore said. “I think they can play together. I think college basketball is more and more going toward having two guys who can create early or late in the shot clock. I think Kasim and Gio will have no problem playing together for certain stretches of the game.”
McLean’s leadership helped lead the Vikings to the Junior College National Tournament. Westchester fell to Wallace State Community College in the tournament’s opening round, but McLean scored a season-high 34 points in the defeat.
“Gio played terrific in their one tournament game,” Moore said. “The first time we got in their gym was after they got back, so we started getting really serious with him. He still had Missouri, Oklahoma, Fordham and some other bigger programs on his list, so obviously he had some terrific options available to him.”
What gave Quinnipiac an edge over some of the more high-profile programs pursuing McLean was a visit McLean made to the Bobcats’ facilities while he was still in high school.
“He had seen our place and it had resonated with him how nice it was,” Moore said. “This helped us because when we went back to talk to him this spring we weren’t just Quinnipiac walking into his gym. We were Quinnipiac with the nice arena that he had already seen walking into his gym talking to him. I think he always had a little place in his heart for us because he had already seen how nice our place was.”
Having a familiarity with the facilities kept Quinnipiac on McLean’s short list, but the guard still had a scheduled visit to Oklahoma in mid-April.
“My fear obviously was when a recruit visits a place in the Big 12 that he’s going to get blown away by the facilities and just the gravitas of the program,” Moore added. “They’re in a power conference, where Blake Griffin played, they have a lot to sell recruits on. Sure enough, when he got there I think he really liked it and he got caught up in it and committed, so we moved on.”
After hearing of McLean’s commitment to Oklahoma, Moore and his staff began pursuing other potential junior college additions. After missing out on another impact transfer, Moore received a call from Tyrone Mushatt, McLean’s coach at Westchester CC.
“Tyrone called and told us what happened with the rule at Oklahoma and the mistake that was made and asked if we still had the scholarship because we hadn’t had contact with him for about two weeks or so,” Moore said. “It was great. Gio came up the next day and had a great visit. He really enjoyed it, fit in really well with the current players, and seemed to be really comfortable with the style of play. It worked out terrific and he wound up committing to us shortly thereafter.”
Quinnipiac’s addition of McLean, a Bronx native, continues a trend of transfers from around the country using the MAAC as a platform to return home to the metropolitan area. Iona has set the standard for building a program through these transfers returning home, but Manhattan also got in on the party with the recent addition of Cincinnati transfer Jermaine Lawrence. Fairfield got in on the act as well, adding two junior college transfers on the roster for next season.
“New York City has probably the most kids sign Division I and go all over the country,” Moore said. “If their experience doesn’t go so well and they want to come home, it’s easier to come home to a school within the city, but we might have an advantage over somebody that’s geographically farther away from New York. We always try to sell being an hour and a half away from the city, so you’re getting the best of both worlds. The kids we’ve gotten from the New York and New Jersey area have loved their experience, and I know their families have loved it. It’s just been very convenient for them.”
McLean joins a 2014 recruiting class which also includes 6’6” forward Samuel Dingba, 6’3” guard Ayron Hutton, 6’1” guard Dmitri Floras, and 6’8” center Chaise Daniels.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac and the MAAC for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.