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July 29, 2014

McKie grows up at S.C. Pro-Am

Justin McKie's run in the South Carolina Pro-Am ended Sunday afternoon, but not before he grew up a little.

The sophomore guard played on a team that included fellow USC guard Austin Constable, former USC forward Carlos Powell and the league's leading scorer in V.T. Taylor, who averaged 35 points per game.

The team went undefeated (5-0) in the regular season, in no small part because of McKie's contributions.

The former South Carolina Mr. Basketball averaged 19 points per game before his team lost in the first round of the league playoffs Sunday afternoon.

For McKie, it was a night-and-day difference from last summer's Pro-Am, when he struggled to make an impact while dealing with an ankle injury.

Those struggles spilled into McKie's first college season, when he was often left out of the rotation. He played in just 17 of South Carolina's 34 games, averaging just 4.7 minutes and 0.5 points per game.

He admitted early in the offseason that despite leading Irmo High School to a 29-0 state championship season and picking up Mr. Basketball honors in the process, he hadn't been ready for the transition from high school to college.

The son of South Carolina's all-time scoring leader, B.J. McKie, scored just nine total points as a freshman.

"Last season, I didn't really know what to expect," said McKie after his team's 93-92 loss on Sunday. "You know it's a new level, but you just don't know how much it takes mentally and physically day in and day out until you've actually lived through it."

McKie, who scored 21 points with three rebounds, two assists and a block in the loss, played with a newfound - or rather, newly re-discovered - sense of confidence this summer.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Columbia native pulled the string from all over the court, facilitated some on offense and relished the opportunity to go toe to toe with current professionals.

"It's pros out here that have played college ball and are playing where I would like to be," McKie said.

Seeing the ball splash the net didn't hurt his confidence either, he said. Now after a successful summer league stint, McKie said he feels "much more" ready for his sophomore year than he did before his freshman campaign.

"After a year of living through it, now I know," McKie said.

McKie said he used the Pro-Am as a training ground for some of the things he needed to work on over the offseason. Getting better defensively, working on his ball screens on offense, tightening up his ball-handling and refining his footwork were among his highest priorities.

"I feel like I've progressed over this summer, and I need to keep progressing to be able to have a successful year," he said.

A guard on a team with plenty of guard depth, McKie doesn't yet know how he'll fit into head coach Frank Martin's rotation next season. For now, he says he's not worrying about it - or any other individual goals - either.

"I don't really get into all of that," McKie said. "All I want to do is play hard and be able to contribute to the team."

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