Objectively, no sport goes through more constant change than basketball. The various eras of the game since its foundation clearly highlight the differences in how much things have evolved over time. The addition of the shot clock, three-point line, or alterations to hand-checking mainly fall under the premise of rule changes (though these inserts did ultimately change the way basketball was played) as opposed to stylistic ideologies. That being said, we watched the NBA transition from the rough, hard-nosed ’90s to arguably the ugliest on-court product in the ‘00s to the space-and-pace era of the ‘10s to whatever the ‘20s have in store. The way the league has continually shifted could be perfect for Darius McGhee and his extremely unique identity.
For anyone who has followed him prior to his college career, McGhee’s name is already held in the highest possible regard. He’s widely considered the best scorer to come through North Carolina in recent memory, especially upon accounting for his size and general play style. In his first three seasons of high school, he averaged 21.6, 26.8, and 36.4 PPG with favorable shooting splits for Roxboro Community. Then, McGhee transferred to a prestigious Blue Ridge (VA) program and seamlessly asserted himself as a leader.
In his first year, he led the Barons in scoring (14 PPG) while being a major part of their 30-3 record. For anyone wondering why the aforementioned season was the lowest scoring total of his high school career, it’s worth noting that this roster also had Aamir Simms (Clemson; overseas), Josh Colon (Fordham), Jaden Frazer (Chattanooga), Sadaar Calhoun (FSU/Texas Tech/Drake), Richard Amaefule (ETSU/Dayton), and numerous other quality pieces.
Entering his senior season, McGhee knew that he’d be tasked with doing more after the departures of Simms, Colon, and Amaefule. The Barons went 21-10 as their star guard posted averages of 19.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.8 APG, and 1.5 SPG with 46/39/82 shooting splits. While the ten losses might be somewhat glaring, realizing they came to the likes of Miller School (4x), Oak Hill, Legacy Early College, Lake Taylor, Hargrave, Huntington Prep, and St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes should help others understand the brutally difficult of Blue Ridge’s schedule.
After all the wins, accolades, and overall successes throughout his high school journey, the 5-foot-9 McGhee had only received three Division I offers: High Point, Campbell, and Liberty. Regardless of height, the lack of scholarships for a guy who just amassed over 3000 points was legitimately staggering—even then. He ultimately chose Liberty, and it ended up being a perfect marriage for both sides.
There was a slight adjustment period during his freshman season for the Flames, seeing as he had been a primary option on every team for the five years prior. However, McGhee proved to be a selfless worker and overall professional who was willing to do whatever it took to win. As a freshman, he averaged 7.8 PPG and 2.7 RPG in 21.3 MPG off the bench. His efficiency had taken a small dip, but his value was evident. The following season, McGhee would take over the starting reigns. His comfort level had clearly been found, as he put up 9.5 PPG and 4.0 RPG across his sophomore campaign. While the raw numbers might not pop off the page, the team’s success (30-4) combined with his individual uptick in efficiency (38.4% to 43.7% FG; 31.9% to 38.6% 3P) speaks for itself.
Although McGhee was starting to become folklore, he was still focused on being a great teammate and winning basketball games. As a junior, he found ways to increase or improve his numbers across the board despite playing less than the season prior. In 30.2 MPG (as opposed to 33), McGhee averaged 15.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 2.1 APG while continuing to become more efficient from the floor (45.2%) and beyond the arc (40.8%). After another winning season (23-6) and first-place finish in the conference, things were pretty enjoyable. Little did the Flames’ fan base know, they would get an absolute treat for the next two years.
In year four of McGhee’s already-successful college career, Coach Richie McKay allowed his electric lead guard to truly take the helm and showcase a big part of what makes him such a special player. It didn’t take long for spectators to become giddy over McGhee’s elite creation skills and shot-making ability, as he put on a show seemingly every night. He had six games of at least 30 points, three of at least 40 points, and only one under double-digits. McGhee maintained their team success (22-11), won the conference title, and finished as the second-leading scorer in the country. He averaged 24.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 1.2 SPG with 46/39/88 shooting splits. For the fourth straight season, McGhee had improved on at least five statistical averages.
Now in his final season, very little has changed. McGhee is still winning and leading the team while posting gaudy per-game numbers. He’s averaging 22.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, and 1.8 SPG with insane 48/48/88 shooting splits. Without overreacting to midseason numbers, shooting 48% from distance on nearly 11 attempts per game is truly incredible. Add in his advanced numbers, and not enough folks are talking about the idea of being a difference-maker in the NBA. We searched for a list of players who met the following criteria: true shooting percentage above 65%, box plus/minus above 10, three-point percentage of at least 45%, and averaged at least 20 PPG (with at least 100 minutes played). Unsurprisingly, there were only three. The group? Doug McDermott, Buddy Hield, and McGhee. Even upon making the three-point shooting something more realistic, like 40%, the list is still only four names.
Plenty of people will look at the number crunch and roll their eyes, but there is legitimacy within these searches. Sure, McGhee is way smaller than the other two guys (both of whom were lottery picks), but one could argue that he’s a far more unique player and scorer in general. Hield and McDermott have become more than just standstill guys, yet still have the luxury of being able to spot-up and cause problems as 6-foot-6 shooters. McGhee doesn’t. On the contrast, neither of those guys possess his array of ball skills or quick-twitch creation at a time when the NBA is trending harder toward guard play than ever before. Being a professional scorer is a real thing, and if anyone in college basketball is deserving of that title, it’s McGhee. At the very least, he should be seen as a dark horse to make noise in the summer league. It’ll be fun to follow his path into the professional ranks, as facing adversity and proving doubters wrong is nothing new for McGhee.