Sunday, March 17, 2002

For McGhee, basketball is fun again

Former Bearcat is an OU force

By Neil Schmidt,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DALLAS — Three years ago, there was no longer room on the Cincinnati roster for Aaron McGhee. But as his career builds to a crescendo, there is still room in this NCAA Tournament bracket for him to show UC what it is missing.

        For the Oklahoma senior, a potential matchup against UC looms in the West Region finals. He's not as appreciative of that opportunity as he is about his renewed resolve.

        “For a while (after leaving UC), I didn't even want to play basketball,” McGhee said Saturday. “What has been the biggest difference in my career is just getting back my love for the game.”

        UC fans can see McGhee today when he leads the second-seeded Sooners (28-4) against Xavier (26-5) in a second-round matchup. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward, a first-team all-Big 12 selection, averages 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds.

        McGhee played his freshman season for UC in 1998-99, averaging 8.1 minutes a game and 2.8 points. UC ended that season with a glut of recruits, and McGhee was the odd man out. Coaches asked him to spend a year at a junior college and then return.

        McGhee said Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College coach Dan Sparks drove up to Cincinnati and talked him out of quitting the sport. McGhee would rebound by setting a Vincennes single-season scoring record and being named MVP of the junior college national championships, despite his team finishing fifth.

        McGhee said Saturday that UC's offer didn't matter: “Once I left Cincinnati, I knew I wasn't coming back.”

        He remains wistful about how well things turned out.

        “I think about it a lot, wondering what would have happened if I'd been (at UC) all along,” he said. “I think I could have been a good player there. But all things happen for a reason.”

        McGhee's bulk and tattooed biceps make him look intimidating, but he didn't always play that way.

        OU coach Kelvin Sampson said he lost track of how many times he threw McGhee out of practice last season, but he's proud now to call him his most consistent player.

        “People don't understand,” Sampson has said, “but one thing you can teach is courage.”

        McGhee likes to roam outside — he has 18 3-pointers — but he has become a force inside with nine double-doubles the last 14 games.

        “God gave me this big body,” he said. “I might as well use it.”


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