BY DENNIS SILVA II | firstname.lastname@example.org
While at home with his wife, lounging on the couch watching Auburn play North Carolina in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last week, Nick Barosh perked up.
Barosh had a vested interest in the game, having coached Auburn junior guard J’Von McCormick from 2012-13 to 2015-16 at Mayde Creek High. And he saw McCormick, in his first season as a Tiger after two years at Lee Junior College, about to do what J’Von McCormick does.
“Just playing in the SEC is a huge accomplishment in itself,” said Barosh, now at Seven Lakes Junior High. “But the other night is when it really, really hit me, when he went end-to-end for a layup at the end of the first half against North Carolina. I told my wife, ‘This is J’Von’s specialty. This is J’Von.’ He goes full court and does these types of things. It went viral on social media, but it was nothing new.
“In my opinion, he’s the fastest guard in the country.”
Three seasons removed from an illustrious career as a Ram, when he started all four years on varsity and scored more than 2,000 points, McCormick, a New Orleans native, has been a vital player in upstart Auburn reaching the Final Four for the first time in program history. Auburn (30-9) plays Virginia on Saturday in the semifinal.
The 6-foot, 175-pound McCormick is averaging 4.1 points and 1.4 assists while shooting 53 percent in 12 minutes per game as a backup point guard for the Tigers. But he has already played the role of hero, tallying 16 points in 17 minutes off the bench during Auburn’s tournament-opening 78-77 win over New Mexico State.
“J’Von said, ‘I want to be on the best team I possibly can. I’ll push those kids as hard as I can. I’ll be ready when my opportunity presents itself,’” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl told auburntigers.com after the game. “He wasn’t afraid.”
That fearlessness is J’Von at his finest, something Barosh knows all too well.
Barosh has been around McCormick since the latter hung around the high school campus as a middle-schooler, waiting around for his older brother, former Mayde Creek star running back Troy McCormick. McCormick was always around older kids.
During summer league play for varsity high school players, McCormick joined in and held his own. As a seventh-grader.
“He was sitting up there in the stands with us coaches, just hanging out with us,” Barosh recalled. “He wasn’t even on the roster or on the bench, and we told him, hey, get in there. He said, ‘Really?’ He went straight from the stands into the games. Once he got past that nervousness of playing against older kids, he did some positive things in those games to where it was wow. He didn’t dominate, but you could tell his skills were on a varsity level playing field.”
Speed was the No. 1 obvious thing. McCormick is faster than a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru lane at lunch time. McCormick’s high basketball IQ and decision-making were other highlights.
McCormick started at point guard his freshman year under Barosh. More often than not, he was the fastest player on the court, and displayed a moxie then that makes him who he is now.
During one game at Houston Memorial High, the rowdy home crowd taunted the 5-foot-5 McCormick with chants of “Baby Gap! Baby Gap! Baby Gap!”
No matter. McCormick proceeded to make the crowd “look stupid,” Barosh said, scoring 13 points and hitting 5 of 7 shots. Eventually, McCormick learned how to thrive on a court suited for giants.
“I think a lot of that time going against taller, older players as a 5-5 kid helped him learn how to use his body and some tricks to help him finish at the basket,” Barosh said. “His size has actually helped him be the player he is right now.”
These days, finishing and a dynamic layup repertoire are McCormick’s strengths. It all came to a head the summer before his senior year when he grew three inches, going from 5-9 to 6-feet.
“Along with that growth spurt came a whole new level of athleticism,” Barosh said. “It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. He could barely touch the rim as a junior, but when he came back his senior year, it was highlight dunk after highlight dunk.”
That senior year, Barosh said McCormick was “all bought in.” His numbers were gaudy: 25.6 points per game on 52 percent shooting, 6.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
“I was more of a fan than anything,” Barosh said. “He wowed you.”
Still, McCormick received limited interest from colleges, and only during late in the season. Sam Houston State recruited him aggressively, but only San Jacinto Junior College and Lee Junior College shared pursuit.
“I have a big chip on my shoulder from just not being looked at as I should coming out of high school,” McCormick told auburntigers.com. “I feel like people overlooked me.”
Because he wanted to expand his options for playing Division I basketball, Barosh said, McCormick chose to go to Lee Junior College to develop. He averaged just 4.9 points and started seven of 31 games his freshman year, but took a huge leap his sophomore season, averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds, starting all 28 games, and finishing as the third-highest scorer in his conference, drawing the eyes of Pearl and the Tigers.
“I think if I would have committed to another team, we probably wouldn’t have been able to make it this far,” McCormick told auburntigers.com. “That’s why I chose Auburn.”
As this season progressed, McCormick became more and more of a factor, more and more comfortable playing on the game’s biggest stage.
And it’s been something to see, particularly for a former coach who fondly remembers helping McCormick tie his shorts before his first varsity game against Cy-Fair because they were so big on him.
“Just watching him grow from seventh grade to when he graduated, coaching him up,” said Barosh, who will be in Minneapolis this weekend watching his former player. “I love that kid.”