AMES — Tyrus McGee selected his post, grasped several nails, drew back a hammer and pounded away.
His older brother, Jamon, had declared dibs on the family’s backyard basketball hoop in tiny Stringtown, Okla.
So the resourceful, then-third-grade McGee crafted his makeshift cylinder from raw materials and milk crates.
Lots and lots of milk crates.
“As fast as I could get them, he was putting holes in them,” the Iowa State senior’s mom, Wilma, said.
“Like four a day,” said McGee, who enters Wednesday’s 7 p.m. Big 12 game at Texas ranked 10th nationally in 3-point field goal accuracy at 44.1 percent. “There’s still nails, I’m talking about thousands of nails in that streetlight pole right now.”
Seems the sixth man extraordinaire — part of a high school graduating class of 22 — has been lighting up inanimate objects and vexed opponents alike for a long time.
Of the nine NCAA Division I players who shoot the three-ball more efficiently than he does, only one averages fewer than his 23 minutes per game.
Every time he shoots it, I think it’s going in,” said voice of the Cyclones John Walters, who will call Wednesday’s game between ISU (16-7, 6-4) and the Longhorns (10-13, 2-8). “With that stroke, you just feel like, ‘OK, that’s going in,’ and you’re surprised when it doesn’t.”
So is McGee — who averages 12.3 points and sank four from beyond the arc in just 15 minutes in ISU’s Jan. 12 win over Texas.
The 6-2 205-pounder has both made (60) and attempted (136) more 3-pointers than any other Cyclone this season.
He also leads the team in steals (28) and coughs up the fewest turnovers (18) among the six ISU players who’ve played the most minutes this season.
“I love guys that compete like that because those are guys you win with,” Walters said.
Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg said he “fell in love” with McGee while watching him in a JUCO showcase in Tulsa.
McGee, a first-team NJCAA all-American in 2011, then wowed him in a less high-profile environment, among bent-rimmed hoops at a Dallas event.
“I was the only high-major coach in the gym,” Hoiberg said. “It was just a completely run-down event, but he saw me. It was funny, because every time Tyrus hit a shot, he looked up at me and we kind of made eye contact.”
Hoiberg saw the joy.
The ability to rise up from anywhere and can a shot.
“I said, ‘Guys, I’m chasing this guy,” Hoiberg recalls telling his staff. “We’ve got to have him.”
McGee needed basketball.
He lost his father to a heart attack when he was in second grade.
Hoops, coupled with mom’s work ethic, his siblings’ support and 13 uncles that served as father figures, kept him forcefully bouncing along on the court and in the classroom — where as a child he’d often hear dynamite blasting into rock from a nearby quarry.
“My mom always says hard work will pay off and now I see what she’s talking about,” said McGee, who plans to graduate this spring. “At first I thought it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I just kept playing and playing.”
McGee’s on pace to finish his two-year career as the school’s sixth most prolific long-range shooter and his current season average of 2.61 threes per game would mirror Hoiberg’s best mark of 2.62 in 1995.
That figure also ranks sixth in program annals.
“He’ll shoot those shots where it’s like, ‘What the?’ and then it goes in,” fellow 3-point ace Chris Babb said.
A first-off-the-bench guy from way back — even in that backyard milk crate graveyard, where sometimes, his brother would let him play.
“Every time I had that ball he would just take it out of my hand or foul me and tell me he didn’t foul,” McGee said. “Brother stuff. Pushing and shoving. But in the long run I thank him for that because it got me to where I’m at now. I think that’s where the hustle came to me.”
Now just try taking it away.
“I tell him the same thing: ‘Just get out there and give it your all, do your best,’” Wilma McGee said. “‘That’s the only thing you can do.’ He says, ‘I will, Momma, I will.’ And he does. He goes out there and gives it his all.”
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