Entering the home stretch of his sophomore season, Iona’s Rickey McGill has emerged as the next great Gael guard.
The latest in a long line of talented backcourt assassins to pass through New Rochelle, including Sean Armand, Lamont Jones, Scott Machado, and most recently AJ English, McGill’s work ethic has led to a meteoric rise in his sophomore campaign.
After averaging just 10.5 minutes per game in his freshman season, McGill has more than tripled his time on the court. He currently checks in at 32.6 mpg while averaging 10.0 points, 5.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per contest.
His average of 5.2 apg leads the Gaels and ranks second in the MAAC to Rider’s standout freshman Stevie Jordan (5.3), who McGill will match up against Friday night. Monmouth’s Justin Robinson, widely thought of as the best point guard in the league, checks in at 5.1 apg.
“This year I feel like I’ve increased my game to a whole different level,” McGill said following a win over St. Peter’s, the Gaels’ fifth in a row. “Over the summer, I was just working out and getting better every day.”
McGill’s emergence has been a pleasant surprise to the Iona faithful, largely because even the coaching staff doubted his potential entering the season. As a rookie reserve on last season’s NCAA Tournament team, McGill averaged just 2.8 ppg and 0.7 apg, and the point guard reins on this year’s squad seemed ready to be handed to UConn graduate transfer Sam Cassell Jr.
“We honestly didn’t know if he’d be playing much for us this year,” head coach Tim Cluess admitted about McGill. “Then he just started separating himself with his work ethic. … Just watching Rickey’s growth through the first couple of games, to game ten, and up to now, it’s night and day where he is now.”
In the span of 23 games, McGill has gone from a question mark to Iona’s most consistent player. After coming off the bench for all 30 of the Gaels’ contests last season, McGill is the lone player to start every one of the team’s games this season.
As far as adapting to a backcourt situation with an older point guard joining the squad, things could not be better. Cassell and fellow graduate transfer Jon Severe have been fully supportive of McGill as he develops into the Gaels’ primary point guard.
“Me and Sam, I think we’ve got the best relationship on the team,” McGill said of Cassell. “We always know where each other are going to be at.”
Cassell has given the Gaels another dimension, as they are able to regularly run out lineups with dual facilitators when he is on the court with McGill. Thus far, Cassell averages 3.2 apg and is in a tie with Severe for second on the team in scoring at 11.3 ppg.
“I just think they’re all coming together and they’re all feeling more comfortable with each other,” Cluess said of his backcourt, which also includes sharpshooters Deyshonee Much and Schadrac Casimir. “They’re more comfortable criticizing each other in the right way and talking about what they need to do on the next play. … They’re starting to talk and get that rapport out there as teammates, and I think it’s great for [Rickey’s] growth.”
While relationships have solidified off the court, McGill insists things remain all business in the arena.
“I feel like since day one, we’ve become closer and more like a brotherhood,” McGill said of his teammates. “Every day we’ll joke around with each other, but then when we come on the court everything is serious. We’ll go at each other – no friends on the court.”
Iona, known as an up-tempo, high-scoring team during Cluess’ tenure, has certainly benefitted from McGill’s tenacity on the defensive end of the court. Even before his offensive outburst this season, McGill had been praised as a high-energy defender.
“Defensively he’s always brought a good effort to it, but now I think he’s understanding defensive concepts better than he did a year ago,” Cluess said of McGill. “He brings great energy to the game, and he’s got a toughness about him that I think is contagious to our team. He’s got a real edge, wants to win, and doesn’t want to make excuses.”
McGill’s play has been a major reason the Gaels have taken off after a middling 3-4 start to MAAC play as they make their visit to Rider on a five game winning streak, sitting in second place in the league at 8-4.
In league play alone, McGill’s averages jump to 13.2 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 4.0 rpg. He recently posted back-to-back career scoring highs with 20 points in a win over Quinnipiac followed by a 22-point output at Siena.
In the win over Quinnipiac, McGill flirted with a triple-double while adding eight rebounds and seven assists. He admits the goal of a triple-double is something he thinks about often, and with his skill set and two more years of development, it is likely he could accomplish the task one day in the future.
There have been just two triple-doubles in Iona history, the first by Nakiea Miller against Fairfield in the 2000 MAAC tournament semifinals, and the second by Scott Machado on February 12, 2012 against Marist.
As for a direct comparison between McGill and Machado, Cluess warns it’s a bit early to measure the sophomore against one of the program’s greats. However, there are signs that McGill could reach the same heights one day.
“Scott wasn’t as athletic as Rickey, but saw the game really well,” Cluess said. “Rickey has really got to kind of figure out where the defense’s weakness is when he does certain things and how to attack. When to attack a gap, when to go to the rim, when to pass the ball, who’s got the hot hand, so he’s learning a lot. He’s been starting at the point guard or second guard for less than a season. There’s a lot to be said for the fact that we’re having success with him doing that, and he’s a prime reason why we are.”
Thanks in large part to McGill’s stellar sophomore season, the Gaels are once again in the hunt for another MAAC title, and McGill himself in the conversation for all-MAAC honors.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.