Brandon McCoy’s only trip to Air Force with UNLV is likely to come Wednesday.
By next year, the 7-foot freshman figures to be playing as a one-and-done lottery pick in the NBA.
But while this will be local fans’ only chance to see him in person, it won’t be his first trip to town. McCoy tried out for the under-19 U.S. national team this past summer at the Olympic Training Center.
Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, whose son Kyle works for USA Basketball, watched two of the practices conducted by John Calipari.
“Playing against the better freshmen in the country at that time and he held his own, obviously, because he made the team and went to Egypt and played and represented our country,” Pilipovich said.
Pilipovich also took the opportunity for some playful mischief.
“I texted (UNLV coach) Marvin Menzies,” Pilipovich said. “I texted him and said I saw Brandon practice today. I said, ‘He’s on campus right now and he’s reconsidering. I think he’s going to come to Air Force.’
“Marvin said, ‘Bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep.’”
Of course, the San Diego native didn’t end up at Air Force. The McDonald’s All-American who plays five musical instruments and proudly tweeted that he earned a 3.34 GPA in his first semester of college eschewed offers from annual contenders like Kansas and Michigan State and is averaging a Mountain West-best 19.3 points per game.
He’s on pace to set conference freshman records for scoring and rebounding (10.3) – marks held by UNLV’s Anthony Bennett (16.1 ppg), Utah’s Andrew Bogut and San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard (9.9 rpg). Bennett and Bogut were taken No. 1 overall in the NBA draft, while Leonard has become an all-NBA first-teamer with San Antonio.
“We’ve got to limit his touches inside,” Pilipovich said. “We may send a next guy on him, two guys, to try to get the ball out of his hands early and force him away from the basket. Teams have tried to do that, some have been successful and some haven’t.
“And he’s actually better left-handed and he’s a right-handed player.”
The Falcons, who start two sophomores and a freshman, also must avoid being awestruck by an opponent who is likely to be playing at the highest level next year. They showed that ability Saturday, hanging with Nevada’s talent-rich lineup until late in the second half.
“I’m getting a lot more comfortable playing these other teams,” said sophomore Lavelle Scottie, who leads Air Force in scoring. “I’m not putting them on a pedestal.”
Air Force vs. UNLV is commonly a mismatch of athleticism, and with McCoy leading the way it will be again, but that hasn’t proven to be a major detriment at Clune Arena where the Falcons have won four of the past five in the series.
“I think our players really respect their program, but also enjoy the opportunity to play against a national brand name,” Pilipovich said.