Fun facts about Michigan center Mitch McGary: He is a candy addict, but he has never had a cavity. He shoots lefty, but as a teen he could throw a fastball righthanded in the high 80s. He helped a neighborhood buddy complete his 1½-mile newspaper route while riding a unicycle.
Since the insertion of this Teflon-toothed, ambidextrous, well-balanced 6'10" freshman from Chesterton, Ind., into the Wolverines' starting lineup, a team that had lost six of 12 before the Big Dance has morphed into an offensive Hydra playing in the Final Four. Not only has McGary averaged 17.5 points on 73.3% shooting and 11.5 rebounds, but he has also liberated guards Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas on the perimeter. A typical Wolverines half-court set begins with a crushing screen from McGary. (Just ask VCU guard Briante Weber, who got splattered twice by legal McGary screens in the round of 32.) The pick allows Burke to drive and McGary to roll, then to finish with either hand. "[Opponents] lock in on those guys. They don't help off as much because they're such great players," McGary says. "It gives me easy looks." If the defender on the wing collapses, Burke can find an open Stauskas—a scenario that played out nightmarishly for Florida in Michigan's 79--59 Elite Eight romp on Sunday, when the 6'6" freshman poured in 22 points on 6 for 6 three-point shooting.
Why did it take Michigan coaches all season to realize they had one of the nation's most dynamic centers on their bench? Because after McGary arrived from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., with a Bunyanesque reputation, a double case of plantar fasciitis limited his mobility and caused him to become, well, more Bunyanesque. He entered Ann Arbor weighing 255 pounds, but he ballooned to 274 before shedding all the extra weight by cutting down on candy and pizza. He also trained himself to mentally manage the pain in his feet, which he says hasn't subsided.
McGary also had to slow down. Wolverines assistant Bacari Alexander spent much of the early season trying to convince McGary that his habit of playing at full speed, while helpful when chasing a loose ball or fighting for a rebound, wasn't always productive in Michigan's half-court offense or defense. McGary's zeal caused him to stumble frequently, and Alexander grew tired of yelling at the freshman to get up. But just as a 12-year-old McGary gradually gained his balance on his unicycle after falling on his face "a couple hundred" times, the 20-year-old McGary has finally found his footing at Michigan. "It graduated from slow down to great job," Alexander says. "Now he's at the point where we just call him a monster."
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
IMMOVABLE BEAST McGary had trouble staying on his feet when he arrived in Ann Arbor; now he is delivering rock-solid play under the hoop and bone-rattling screens away from it.