‘Fake Starter’? Fighting Words To WVU’s Jordan McCabe
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Jordan McCabe has heard it. Sometimes he’s tuned it out. Other times, the cacophony still filtered through. What, the narrative went, was he doing still starting for West Virginia’s very successful basketball team?
Some of the discussion was reasoned and understandable. McCabe wasn’t scoring, had a shooting percentage below the Mendoza line, and was turning the ball over at an unacceptable rate. Would WVU be better with someone else running the team at the outset of games?
Then there was the disgusting, yet predictable segment of onlookers – they don’t dignify being called “fans” – who made their ugly voices heard via social media. Catcalls and personal attacks, the norm for many parts of the social media universe, denigrated him and his play. It even extended to some “media” – again a term used very loosely.
“We heard a lot of stuff about being ‘fake starters’,” McCabe said after putting together a very good 23-minute performance against Texas in which he scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. He also added four rebounds, two assists and a steal as he and the rest of the starting five broke out of the doldrums to build an early lead against the Longhorns. “People can tell you they don’t hear it, but they do.”
Some of the criticism is borne out of normal fan frustration. The expectation that players are always going to trend in one direction, and improve on a steady upward trajectory, isn’t realistic, but when it doesn’t happen, calls for benching and the pulling of scholarships break out. Some is a lack of understanding that points and rebounds aren’t the only measure of play, although they are obviously important. And some is simple ignorance.
In McCabe’s case, it might also stem from his showing last year, in a strange way. He was at the center of the team’s rally from a 2-13 stretch that was marked by the departure of malcontents and a team dynamic that bordered on dysfunctional to one that produced a pair of wins in the Big 12 Championship, including one over eventual national runner-up Texas Tech. While the Mountaineers certainly were far from a polished product, their 5-4 mark over the final nine games of the year, sparked in part by McCabe’s excellent leadership, gave hope for this year.
It’s instructive to note at this point that McCabe wasn’t a huge numbers guy in 2018-19. He averaged 5.8 points per game, and his shooting marks of 32.2% overall and 33.8% from 3-point range didn’t ring any bells. It was his gritty determination to hold the team together, to work endlessly in the gym, to serve as as example to others (his relationship with Derek Culver is one of many to cite) that made him just as valuable as his play on the floor.
However, when McCabe’s numbers fell off this years, the discontent bloomed. His passes were sometimes off the mark or ill-considered, and he dribbled in place without an end goal at times. There was no longer any praise given for the leadership role, even though that still remained. The fact that he’s always the first on the floor for pre-game, and that he’s constantly in the gym on his own and bringing others along with him? Ignored. He wasn’t playing as well as last year, and was viewed as a liability. Thus, the barrage of negative comments increased.
McCabe not only admits that he heard that, but that he might have reacted to it in the wrong manner.
“I think I went too far one way,” he said of his response. “I tried to tune it out. I deleted for a while all my socials, and stayed off of them. I think that’s good, to take a detox sometimes. At the same time, I have always been one who reads that stuff and lets it fuel me.”
Was it as simple as that? It’s an easy conclusion to draw, and one that would be a feel-good ending to this story arc. In reality, though, it’s still playing out. McCabe’s play, and that of a couple of other starters who have been going through slumps, was excellent against the Longhorns. Still, that’s just one game, and McCabe knows that, while also acknowledging that getting off to a good start was important in reversing the trend of falling behind early in some games.
“It’s really important,” he said of hitting a few shots early on and building a lead right out of the gate. “We are deep and with guys that can come off the bench and do what they do, sometimes you can get buried. But if we are winning, we are winning. We just want to pull our own weight. ‘Fake starter’ and all that stuff, whatever you want to call me, or us as a unit, we are a damn scary team when we play like we did tonight. End of story.”
That’s the story that McCabe wants to write, and one that Mountaineer fans should be happy to be a part of.