‘I love Duke’: Jared McCain reflects on ‘best year’ of his life as he preps for NBA Draft

Jared McCain’s freshman year roommate, Caleb Foster, is preparing to be a big part of Duke basketball’s backcourt next season.

McCain, meanwhile, is traveling the country, working out for NBA teams and taking part in this week’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

His projection as a first-round pick in next month’s NBA Draft made leaving the Blue Devils after one season the logical decision. That doesn’t mean it lacked emotion.

“I love — I love — Duke,” McCain said last week on a Zoom call from San Francisco, following a workout for the Golden State Warriors. “I mean, that was the best year of my life. I’ve said it a lot but I loved it. So it was a tough decision to leave Duke. But it was the best decision for me and my career.”

The 6-3 McCain joined fellow NBA Draft early entrant Kyle Filipowski as the only players who started every game last season for a 27-9 Duke team that made the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. N.C. State ended the Blue Devils’ season — and McCain and Filipowski’s college careers — by defeating Duke, 76-64, in the South Region final at Dallas.

Along the way, McCain averaged 14.3 points while making 46.2% of his shots, including 41.4% of his 3-pointers.

He twice made eight 3-pointers in a game, becoming the single-game record holder for 3-pointers made in a game by a Duke freshman, and also making the most 3-pointers in an NCAA game by any Duke player. He closed his career with 32 points in that regional final loss to the Wolfpack.

By being intentional and adhering to his daily meditation routine, McCain said he did his best to stay in the moment of his college season and avoiding thinking ahead to a looming decision about beginning his pro career.

“I’m really big on being present,” McCain said. “So for social media, I had my TikTok, so that was something I did have throughout the season, but Instagram I didn’t really have, so I didn’t really see too much of the (draft) projections. or anything like that. And I told my family to not really tell me anything and my agent not really telling me anything.”

Even as he tried to avoid it, NBA Draft talk grew, especially after he scored 35 points, making 8 of 11 3-pointers, when Duke won 76-67 at Florida State on Feb. 17. His 30-point game, including again making 8 of 11 3-pointers, in Duke’s 93-55 NCAA Tournament second-round win over James Madison, only intrigued scouts more.

“You know you’re playing well, but you don’t really know what the decision is going to be,” McCain said. “You’re not really worried about that, especially going into March Madness. You just want to win for your coach, for your teammates. It’s definitely something I thought of after.”

Duke used a three-guard starting lineup last season, with Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor and Foster moving in and out of the lineup while McCain remained a constant. Only Proctor and Foster are returning to Duke, with Roach entering the draft pool while also announcing he’ll transfer to play at Baylor next season if he stays in college.

Foster, McCain’s roommate, is recovering from right ankle surgery. But he and Proctor, along with Tulane transfer Sion James, are projected as Duke’s top ballhandlers next season.

In preparation for his pro career, McCain is working on shooting more out of on-ball situations where he’s the primary ballhandler. That’ll be different from his Duke career.

“At Duke, I was more of an off-ball shooter because we had such good people on the ball in Caleb Foster, Tyrese and Jerm,” McCain said. “So I’m just working more live action making reads coming off screens, coming off ball screens and still perfecting the shooting.”

He wowed scouts Monday in Chicago when he made 19 of 25 3-pointers during a NBA Combine shooting drill.

He’ll always have a place in his heart for the Blue Devils, especially with a close friend like Foster being such an important player to next season’s team.

But McCain’s practice of being in the present has him focusing fully on getting his game ready for pro basketball.

“I love high pressure situations,” McCain said. “I feel like that’s when I’m able to really bring out that, like, the work really shows. All the competing that I’ve already done, the work that I’ve already put in, It’s gonna show in those high moments. It just kind of proved me right. I love the big moment. I love the bright lights.”