By Kevin Duffy
In two months when Dick Vitale and Andy Katz discuss the best guards in the nation for the upcoming season, they will likely list names such as Chris Lofton, Drew Neitzel, Ty Lawson, Darren Collison and even OJ Mayo and Derrick Rose. No disrespect to any of those players (or Dicky V and Katz), but one other player belongs in that group: Houston scoring-machine Rob McKiver.
McIver has never been a big name in mainstream basketball. He grew up in New Haven, CT, which despite some mild success in producing college players, has never been confused for a high school hoops hotbed. McKiver starred at Hillhouse Highschool and was named Connecticut Player of the Year during a senior season that was highlighted by a 53-point single game performance. Though he certainly turned some heads while dominating New Haven basketball, McIver credits the now defunct ABCD camp for most of the national attention he received.
After graduating Hillhouse, McKiver decided to do a year of prep at the Windenchon School, but ended up sitting out most of the season with an injury. McIver took his game to Providence, where he struggled as a freshman and decided to transfer to San Jacinto Junior College. At San Jacinto, McKiver averaged 17.9 points per game en route to being listed as the top JuCo shooting guard in the nation by JucoJunction.com.
McKiver transferred to the University of Houston as a junior, and it seems as though he’s finally found a home as a Couger. The 6’3’’ 195 lb shooting guard took Conference USA by storm as he scored 19.4 points per game to go along with 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds in his first season. Though the conference is not known to be a powerhouse, it does possess one of the best teams in the nation in the Memphis Tigers. McKiver thrived under the pressure of playing Memphis, as he torched them for 27 and 32 points in their two regular season match-ups. In putting on such outbursts against good competition and leading his Cougars to the Conference USA finals, McKiver garnered a lot of attention from NBA scouts and is now considered to be a potential second-round pick in next year’s draft.
As for training for the most important season of his life, McKiver is approaching this season as he did any other – by slaving himself in the gym for countless hours. A self-proclaimed gym rat, McKiver acknowledged that it is hard for him to give a specific daily routine because at any given time, there is a good chance that he can be found in the Houston field house working on his game. Here is a look at McIver’s description of his average day (keep in mind that McKiver often substitutes lunch and hanging out for some intense work on the hardcourt.)
5:15 AM- Wake-Up
I wake up before sunrise five times a week so I can get ready for my 6 AM workout. I usually do my morning stuff, throw on my gym clothes, and head off to the weight room
6 AM- Weight Room
I do an upper-body workout on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and hit the legs on Tuesday and Thursday. After I am done with my weights workout, I get onto the court and get up 100 shots while my body is tired. I take 50 three-pointers and 50 midrange shots off the dribble. On a good day, I’m out of there by 7:30.
8 AM: Time to Relax
Sometimes I’ll grab a post-workout meal from McDonalds when I’m done or my girlfriend will cook me something nice to eat in the morning. I don’t have class until 2 PM, so I have a lot of time to hang around and relax. Sometimes I’ll get a little anxious and I’ll head back to the gym to do a little more work on my game, go to the weight room to do some extra work, or jump in the pool to help loosen up and stretch out my muscles.
2 PM: Class
I’m only taking one class during the summer semester. It’s a health class that focuses on nutrition and it’s relation to athletic performance. I can take information away from this class that will help me become a better conditioned-athlete and ultimately a better basketball player.
3 PM: Back to the gym
I’ll get up some more shots off the dribble before we start playing team pick-up. I’ll try to work up a good sweat so I’m ready to play and be a leader during our pick-up sessions.
4 PM: Team Pick-Up
Everyday at 4, we divide up our team and play some full court games. Everyone plays hard and tries to prove themselves during the games, but we add in a little more incentive by placing wagers on what team will win. Usually we will bet something like a 1-mile run, so in other words, the team that loses would have to go for a run right after our open gym time ended. We won’t bet on just one game, but rather the first team to win 5 games, so our wager remains a factor throughout the entire two-hour session.
6 PM: Done for the Day (kind of)
After the pick-up games are done, I’ll try to get a few more shots up before I have to leave the gym. I then head back to get some dinner with my girlfriend. Usually, she makes a shrimp pasta dish which gives me the protein and carbohydrate I need to recover for my workout the next day. After dinner, I’ll try to relax for a little bit, but sometimes I just get the itch to get back into the gym. I have the keys to get in, so it’s not unusual to find me there at 1 or 2 in the morning if I have a lot of energy and can’t go to sleep.
Side notes: While McKiver is back home in New Haven, he doesn’t let up on his training. The 6’3’’ Houston standout engages in pick-up games with some of the best college players to come out of the area. He noted Penn State’s Geary Claxton, also from New Haven, and UConn’s Craig Austrie as regular pick-up participants. McKiver also mentioned that he was very close with Boston Celtics F Ryan Gomes, a native of Waterbury, CT. While he is now back in Houston with the dreams of collegiate success and an NBA career in sight, McKiver says he is proud of where he came from and will always do his best to represent both New Haven and the state of Connecticut.
Team Preview: McKiver is Houston’s top returnee, but he isn’t the only threat on a talented Cougar team. Senior SF Dion Dowdell averaged 11.1 points and 5.8 rebounds as a junior last season and is considered a fringe second-round pick right now. McKiver noted the hard work of Dowdell, as well as G Lanny Smith (7.8 points, 3 assists, 2.3 rebounds), who the team expects to emerge as the starting lead guard after he missed most of his would-be senior season with a foot injury.
Houston graduates combo guard Oliver Lafayette (14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists) and powerful F Jahmar Thorpe (10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds), but still is expecting to contend in Conference USA. Add in athletic guards Marcus Malone, Sam Anderson, and Robert Lee, and Houston has the tools to create havoc at both ends on the perimeter. The Cougars’ latest recruiting class contains three guards (Zamal Dixon, Brockeith Pane, DaShaun Williams) and two small forwards (Yan Moukoury and Horace McGloster).
While Houston continued to add talent on the outside, they have neglected the frontcourt in recent years and as a result are severely undermanned at the power forward and center positions. The team will rely heavily on inexperienced and undersized big men such as Nick Mosley and Tafari Toney. Senior C Marcus Cousins is the wildcard of the group. He has great size (6’11’’ 245), but has yet to show he can contribute on such a high level. Behind McKiver and Dowdell, the Cougars have two of the conference’s best players, but they will have a very difficult time contending with Memphis simply because of the disparity in frontcourt size and depth.