The David McCormack we heard about before the season has finally arrived

Kansas' David McCormack shoots over Oklahoma State's Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Mitch Alcala)

Raise your hand if you thought in December David McCormack would be playing at an All-Big 12 level in January. And be honest.

When the Jayhawks’ starting big man was going 1-for-9 versus Kentucky or 5-for-12 against Creighton or 3-for-10 at Texas Tech, there wasn’t much evidence that McCormack’s junior season was going to be all that different from either of his first two years in a Kansas uniform.

If you truly believed McCormack would eventually figure it out in a few weeks’ time, you’re either an eternal optimist or you believed head coach Bill Self, who repeatedly during the preseason sang McCormack’s praises and then kept on banging the “McCormack is a good player” drum all through his big man’s struggles.

(Full disclosure: I did not raise my hand.)

Self is a basketball savant, but it was becoming difficult not to wonder what he had seen out of McCormack that had him so convinced about the junior’s potential to make an impact this season — especially after KU opened its January schedule with a home beating at the hands of Texas, in which McCormack went 0-for-4 and was so ineffective he only played 14 minutes.

Who could’ve known that would be a turning point in his third college basketball season?

After shooting below 50% from the floor in each of KU’s first nine games against Division I opponents, McCormack’s career night (24 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks) in a loss at Oklahoma State marked the third game in a row that he shot 55% or better and produced 17 points or more.

Behold: the David McCormack about whom Bill Self spoke in October and November isn’t a mythical figure. He’s an actual, legitimate college big man, finally ready to make the best use of his 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame inside.

“I just kind of played to my size advantage,” McCormack stated matter of factly in a postgame video interview with reporters. “Did what coach asked, posting deep, tried not to force any shots and just made some good reads. That’s about it.”

McCormack scored 12 points, pulled in six rebounds and blocked two shots during the second half at OSU, as the No. 6 Jayhawks (10-3 overall, 4-2 Big 12) rallied out of a double-digit hole.

For stretches against the Cowboys, it seemed like McCormack was the only Jayhawk who was capable of scoring.

“He was great,” teammate Ochai Agbaji said of McCormack following the 75-70 defeat. “Just throwing it in to him, and his post presence throughout the whole entire game was great. We looked for him when things weren’t going for us and he was a big part of that comeback we kind of sparked.”

To Agbaji’s point, OSU led by 16 with a little more than nine minutes to go before KU went on a 21-2 tear, during which McCormack scored eight points in a little under eight minutes.

KU’s surging big man once again made the most of his offensive potential by not often drifting outside of the paint. Among his season-high 10 successful field goals, nine came within the paint and he only hoisted two jumpers from outside of the key. McCormack shot 10-for-18 overall and went 7-for-12 around the rim. Can he do even better inside? Yes. But remember: this is the same man who only made 46.7% of his attempts around the rim through KU’s first 10 games.

Even better news for KU: McCormack isn’t limiting his interior presence to one end of the floor. Three of the best shot blocking games in his 76-game career have come in the past week-plus. He tied his career high for blocks with three at Oklahoma State after swatting two each at TCU and against Oklahoma. This from a man who blocked three total shots in KU’s first seven games.

For McCormack, just like with his offense of late, his defensive improvement is tied to feeling more comfortable and confident on the court. He said he’s more aware defensively now, because of his preparation, making sure he knows what to expect from certain opponents off of scouting reports.

“Reading their moves and timing things up,” he said.

After the OSU loss, Self said McCormack’s play was what he pictured getting from the big man this year.

“I think David had a great game. I thought everybody was so poor defensively the first half but I thought he had a great game,” Self said. “We threw it to him, he delivered. He made some hard shots. Defensively, he controlled the defensive glass for the most part. I think David’s certainly on an uptick.”

Self continued: “I don’t know that he can average 20 and 10 the rest of the season, but I do think he has the potential to get 20 and 10 in any game.”

Typically, KU has the 3-point shooting to complement McCormack’s play inside. And if that was the case against the Cowboys, KU would’ve survived and won on the road. But on Tuesday at Oklahoma State, Agbaji (4-for-9 from deep) was the only Jayhawk on target, as the rest of the team combined to go 1-for-12.

If Jalen Wilson was the surprise of the season in December, then this reinvigorated McCormack is bombshell 2.0.

KU might need another revelation in the weeks ahead to become one of the elite teams in the country in time for March Madness. But McCormack’s stunning turnaround looks like a key development, even though his most outstanding game to date came in a loss.


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