WVU Basketball

How Jordan McCabe's talent, attitude and selflessness carved his path to WVU

Mountaineer newcomer left "long-lasting" impact on Kaukauna High

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Everyone who knows him speaks glowingly of Jordan McCabe.

The WVU freshman guard was a prodigy as a young child. Just look at all of the YouTube clips of his ball handling and drill work. There was a sense that he would turn out to be a gifted basketball player with all of the potential in the world.

But on his path to West Virginia, the Wisconsin native did more than simply develop into a four-star recruit: He pushed himself. He won championships. And most importantly, he helped others.

Signs at an early age

It was evident right away: McCabe was special.

When he was 5 years old, he was watching film of Pete Maravich from videos his father and grandfather gave him. He would sit and watch a DVD of Maravich and try to emulate what he saw from the Hall of Famer.

All he wanted was to watch and play basketball.

“I used to bring my basketball everywhere with me to a point of probably annoyance for my family,” McCabe said. “You knew where we were at all times. Whether we were in the mall or at a movie theater, I had it with me. I slept with it at times. Whether that’s weird or not, I don’t know. That’s just what I did.”

McCabe was a national sensation at a young age. His dribbling skills made him a sight to behold when he was 12, appearing on ESPN to showcase his talents. He performed at halftime of a Golden State Warriors game. He appeared alongside Ellen DeGeneres on TV to showcase what he can do. Even the Harlem Globetrotters invited him to perform at a game.  

All of that was to be expected. Anyone who worked with McCabe and knew him from a young age knew he could do pretty much anything they set his mind to, which makes it no surprise that he is where he is today.

The first day Jason Otter — who runs Otter Basketball, a training program that has helped mold several top athletes —  worked with McCabe, he knew he was something different. He knew he was going to go places.  

Otter did not typically work with younger kids, but McCabe was an exception. He started with Otter in second grade. At the time, Otter Basketball only took players in sixth grade and older, but McCabe got into a camp in Michigan.

“I remember I kind of wanted to kick him out, and then my dad said ‘well, you can’t kick the kid out. He drove 12 hours to get here,’” Otter said. “He did really well. He kind of opened the door. So we took three young kids in with Jordan.”

One time, Otter was on McCabe about his posture and alignment. So, McCabe —  as dedicated as he is —  sat on a FIT ball and had dinner on the FIT ball for the next month to work on his posture and alignment.

Another time, when McCabe and his family lived in Seattle for a short while, he was coaching him on ball screens and going lateral across the rim. McCabe certainly heeded the message and made sure to remember what he was learning so that he could implement the new skills into his play.

“The kid just took off running and he runs over, and I’m like ‘what are you doing? I’m talking to you,’” Otter said. “And he’s like ‘I’ve got to write this down so I don’t forget.’ Obviously, at that point, I knew he was really special with the details and his IQ and how he locked into things.”

Like Otter, the coaches at Kaukauna High School, McCabe’s alma mater, could see how advanced he was for someone his age. He was better than players far older than him.

When McCabe was in just first or second grade, Kaukauna High School varsity basketball assistant coach Ryan Bowers —  then a freshmen coach — would pick him up to attend practices. He was working right next to the high school freshmen. But his age had no part in his dedication to the game.  

No, he was doing the practice drills harder. “That’s when you knew that right there like ‘wow, okay. This kid’s got something special,’” Bowers said. “He wants to be there. He wants to do it. It’s an internal drive and it’s been that way ever since. I think that’s when we knew ‘hey, this kid’s going to have a chance to be really good because of his willingness to work hard every day.’”

Jason Otter’s influence

Otter’s oversight of McCabe’s development can’t be overlooked.  

Otter is widely respected for his work with point guards. He’s worked with two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion Jason Richardson and a number of other big-time players that have gone on to have successful careers at every level.  

“[Otter] is the best at what he does in terms of developing basketball players with great skillsets,” Bowers said.  

McCabe might not be the tallest, the fastest or the most athletic, but he makes up for it in every other aspect, because of Otter’s coaching and emphasis on fundamentals and efficiency. Everyone he’s been around raves about his passing, his shooting and his basketball IQ. All of that makes up for a potential lack of size and athleticism.  

Everything McCabe has learned from Otter and his basketball camps has been applied into his workouts every single day, helping him become a 6-foot point guard that was rated as one of the top players in his recruiting class and now plays at a college program that has been in the Sweet 16 three of the last four years.  

“I think the one thing that why Jordan really is where he is is because he took what Jason does at his camps and what he’s offered at his camps,” Bowers said. “Jordan has taken that stuff and he’s applied it every single day in his workouts.”

The inner drive to excel

Simply put, McCabe is a winner.

He hates to lose — absolutely hates it. His ultra-competitive nature speaks volumes about everything he is on the court. He will put in all of the work necessary and then some to accomplish everything possible.

“I’ve been around a lot of pretty good players, and I don’t think I’ll ever be around another player that’s fiercely as competitive as Jordan is,” Bowers said.

McCabe changed the way Kaukauna basketball operates. Instead of being a typical run-of-the-mill program, it is boasting nothing but individuals that exemplify McCabe’s tremendous work ethic, and that is a credit to what he instilled during his four years there.

Before school, he would work out at 6 a.m. whether it be alone or with some of his teammates. That helped him earn a captain role from his freshman year all the way through his senior campaign.

“That doesn’t happen very often at probably any high school either that you name a freshman as a captain, but we were willing to do that because of the type of character, the type of work ethic, the cerebral type player that he was displaying at an early age,” said Kaukauna head coach Michael Schalow, who was recently inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

No matter what was going on, no matter the time of year, McCabe always wanted to put the work in.

“He’s called me up numerous of times, Christmas Eve for example,” Bowers said. “‘Hey, can I get the keys to the gym.’ I’m like ‘Jordan, it’s Christmas Eve.’ He’s like, ‘Well, my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas until tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to get some shots up tonight.’”

Even during breaks from school, McCabe never stopped working.

His spring break of his senior year, not long removed from winning his second state championship in Wisconsin, he had a request to work with Otter. Otter told him he would take him hog hunting in Texas, but McCabe did not want to do that.

Instead, he asked if he could meet him in Michigan and work on his game.

“That’s what he asked for his graduation present,” Otter said.

What made that trip so special, though, was not just that McCabe was working on the regular aspects of his game. He was going through the tedious parts of the game, like moving from the shot pocket line with his chest opened, doing that over and over and over again.

“A lot of the other guys that thought they should have been ‘Mr. Basketball’ or whatever in that state, they’re out at Daytona or wherever they’re at on spring break, and Jordan’s in the gym in Michigan spending six hours a day,” Otter said.

That attention to detail and work ethic helped McCabe become one of the finest players in Wisconsin basketball history at the high school level. He is the No. 6 scorer in the state with 2,442 career points. As a senior, he was named “Mr. Basketball” in Wisconsin after averaging 26.7 points and 7.8 assists while winning the second of his two state championships.

And that final state championship victory showcased everything McCabe is about.

Up until the final few minutes, his shot was not falling, even though his final stat line might not indicate that: 32 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. But he stepped up when it mattered most.

“I bring that right back to I’ve never been around another person that is so fiercely competitive as Jordan is and he’s not going to shy away from the big lights,” Bowers said. “He’s not going to fear it.”

He scored the team’s final eight points, catapulted with the biggest shot of his career. With the game tied 74-74 after Milwaukee-Washington made a free throw, Kaukauna got the ball back with 30 seconds remaining. It had a timeout to use, however, Schalow didn’t call it.

The ball was in McCabe’s hands, the best player on Kaukauna’s roster and one of the best in the entire country.

“That was our confidence in Jordan over many years of seeing him play that we had that confidence to put the ball in his hands,” Schalow said.

So, McCabe dribbled down the court, dribbled left off a screen and made a layup with his right hand with just seconds remaining, giving Kaukauna the 76-74 lead and the state title.

“He made the read and made the play because he had done it so many times when nobody else was watching that I think even though there were many, many watching on the big stage, he was able to do that with great confidence,” Schalow said.

Now that’s he has moved on to play basketball at West Virginia, Schalow sees a trickle-down effect happening at Kaukauna. The younger athletes who played alongside him continue to push themselves the way McCabe once did.

“We’re already seeing some of the benefits of having him here already,” Schalow said. “I think there’s a level of continued, enhanced work ethic.”

Using his platform

McCabe’s best trait might not be on the basketball court.

There are many stories of what he’s done to help others. There’s the time when he gave a medal to a fan of his with special needs after winning a section title. There’s the time as a sophomore, the night before his team played in the state tournament at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin, where 50 kids came up to him asking for autographs and pictures. He graciously took the time for each fan. The same thing happened his senior year when Kaukauna was playing at the City of Palms Classic in Florida.

McCabe understands he has a platform to use, not only as a good basketball player, but as a spokesperson for his hometown. He has a relationship with Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who is a two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion. He’s seen how Curry and other athletes use their platform to help everyone in need.

“At the end of the day, the greatest accomplishment that I think he’s made to the community is his willingness to give back, help people in need and then pave a path for other young kids,” Bowers said.

In 2013, McCabe started Hoops 2 Help, which focuses on basketball and helps raise money for those suffering from cancer and other health issues. According to its website, it has raised over $53,000 over four events.

The Kaukauna community has benefitted greatly through Hoops 2 Help. One example includes in 2013, when McCabe was 14, the foundation raised over $6,000 for Braeden Jansen, a local boy battling leukemia. In 2014, it raised over $10,000 in an event for Dawn Schalow, who was getting treatment for a brain tumor. And in 2016, an event raised over $12,000 for Lee Vander Sanden, local man who had battled prostate cancer for more than 10 years.

“He’s taken that platform and helped raise money for those families, and so the Hoops 2 Help, over the years that Jordan was here, has been tremendous to help a lot of different families in need,” Schalow said. “I think that speaks a great deal to his character and his willingness to volunteer and to give back to people and to give back to people in the community.”

He’s a man of faith. Those around him talk about his relationship with the Lord. They talk about his character and eagerness to help others.

That ability to help others extends everywhere, whether it’s the basketball court or in the community. He lives by what he’s been taught at Otter Basketball, especially one lesson: “make everyone around you better.”

“I think it’s really unlike anything that Huggins has ever had there, and I’m hoping that he capitalizes on that as much as he can, because that’s probably his greatest strength, his ability to step out there and make people better and to help other people and to think about other people,” Otter said. “To me, if you get that out of basketball, you’re successful, and I feel like he does understand that.”

For someone that has seen so much success as an athlete and been recognized on the national stage, he stays grounded. He stays humble. He wants to be a role model for the younger generations.

That’s exactly what he has done, and his impact on Kaukauna will be felt for years.

“We’re very grateful that we’ve had a player and what we’ve gotten from Jordan McCabe will live in for a long, long time in Kaukauna Basketball because of how he’s represented himself both on and off the court and certainly as a student in the classroom,” Schalow said. “Those areas, people and young players that are coming through our program, emulate and want to be the next Jordan McCabe. His touch on our program, his fingerprint on our program is going to be very long-lasting.”

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