Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 | 2 a.m.
UNLV has lost two straight and five of the last six, so Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern discuss reasons for the skid and what hope remains for the rest of this season.
In a lot of ways they were only one of many, a young couple coming to Las Vegas to get married and stick around for a honeymoon. There was one stop Jeff and Teresa McCaw just had to make, though, and it’s not a common visit for newlyweds.
It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a game or that the Thomas & Mack Center doors were locked. The McCaws, the basketball family that they are and Rebels fans from a distance, wanted a special photo to put in the wedding album.
“We saw the house that Tark built,” Teresa McCaw said.
Something that sets the McCaws apart among couples issued marriage licenses by Clark County in January 1995 is that a little more than nine months after that trip, Teresa gave birth to a son. And 19 years later that son, Pat, has emerged as the most consistent and arguably the best player this season for UNLV.
“Vegas has always been a lucky spot for our family,” said Pat McCaw, repeating a line his mom likes to use.
The fourth of six siblings, Pat was the fourth of five incoming freshmen to commit to the Rebels. Essentially an afterthought in UNLV’s top-5 ranked recruiting class, McCaw came in with no individual ranking and few expectations.
Now as UNLV (10-8, 1-4) attempts to snap its recent skid tonight at the Mack against New Mexico (12-6, 4-2), McCaw is positioned as a team leader. The game will tip at 8 p.m. and it airs on CBS Sports Network.
McCaw is coming off a career-high minutes played (37) after moving into the starting lineup at San Diego State, and over the last two games he’s averaging 16 points, 3.5 assists and two steals per game. Throughout this season McCaw has consistently played four positions while leading the team in steals, ranking second in assists, third in points and blocks and fourth in rebounds.
Few things great, everything really good. That’s the way Jeff McCaw, a high school basketball coach, taught his kids to approach the game.
“Make sure that whatever’s needed throughout the game, you’ll be able to do that,” Jeff McCaw said. “… His presence is felt even if his numbers aren’t good.”
Jeff and Teresa met, appropriately, at a basketball game. When they were in high school, Teresa spotted her future husband in a letterman’s jacket across the court and, she said, “the rest is history.”
“Basketball is a bond of our family,” Teresa McCaw said. “It’s what we do all the time. It’s part of the culture of our family.”
Jeff McCaw, a 6-foot guard as a player, has coached at several schools in the St. Louis area. That includes a few years leading his alma mater, Wellston High, and the kid who would become its star player, Ben McLemore.
McLemore went on to play one season at Kansas before getting selected No. 7 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, six spots behind UNLV’s Anthony Bennett.
Poor facilities and even poorer test scores forced the school district to close Wellston down in 2010, the end of McLemore’s junior season. Before that, though, Jeff McCaw worked with McLemore constantly, helping him sculpt himself into an elite player on a regimen of 5,000 jump shots a week. Oftentimes when they were in the gym, so was Pat McCaw, learning how much work it takes behind the scenes to make the plays look easy on game night.
“That’s why I listen to my dad so much about basketball because he really knows the game,” Pat McCaw said.
It was the continuation of years spent following his dad into gyms. Before Pat McCaw could walk, his dad would often play at an open gym, opting against a babysitter in favor of bringing Pat to the gym, where he'd settle into his car seat with a sippy cup.
Jeff McCaw said he always tried to not force the game on any of his kids, nor yell at them whether he was their coach or watching from the stands. However, he admits that a ball and a hoop were always in their lives.
“It’s not that (Pat) was bred to play basketball,” Jeff McCaw said, “it’s part of his DNA.”
There was something different about the way Pat McCaw played the game from the time he was 5 years old, his dad said. While other kids tried to hoist shots and played like the sidelines were made of walls, Pat McCaw would leap out of bounds to save the ball and always preferred distributing.
“I like contributing in all aspects of the game to help my team get better and make the players around me better,” Pat McCaw said.
Even now with his role increasing and his shot going in at a 51.3 percent clip in conference play, the second best on the team, the team’s leading scorer has tried to talk Pat into shooting more.
“He’s such an unselfish player that he looks first to get everyone else involved,” said fellow freshman Rashad Vaughn.
Pat McCaw is a distributor first in part because no one was expecting this growth spurt. Like father like son, from eighth grade to senior year both Jeff and Pat McCaw grew about seven inches. The difference was their starting points, with Pat sprouting past everyone in the family and taking his point guard skills with him to 6-6.
On defense, the Rebels simply want more of the same from Pat McCaw. With those lanky arms he constantly disrupts the opponent’s passing lane and effort has never been a concern.
“He’s one of our best defenders,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice. “He’s a very advanced freshman and I think that people can see how bright Patrick’s future is at UNLV and how bright the future at UNLV is with someone like Patrick in our program.”
Jeff McCaw coached his son for a couple of seasons during Pat’s high school career and they still talk often, breaking down the games. The talks usually focus on what Pat did wrong or didn’t do, but they’re conversations, not one-sided.
Pat McCaw usually knows what plays his dad is going to bring up before a word is spoken because the freshman is already thinking about them, thinking about how he can get it right the next time. Pat said he’s a little surprised this season has gone this well individually but the team’s record makes that hard to appreciate. Small tweak here, better positioning there, always something more that can be done.
“I can’t let up,” Pat McCaw said. “I haven’t really done anything yet.”
He was already averaging starters’ minutes, but after Rice moved Pat McCaw into the starting lineup at San Diego State and he responded with one of his better performances it’s clear the switch will stick. Pat McCaw has consistently provided a lift when he enters the game and considering UNLV’s struggles to start the halves well, it only made sense to plug that spark in sooner.
No longer unheralded, Pat McCaw will continue to move up the opponents’ scouting report. He’s someone to be reckoned with at both ends, a player who helps the team whether the box score says it or not, just like his dad taught him.
For his parents the success, and especially the fan support, they said, has been nice, though Jeff McCaw knows there’s plenty of room for improvement. His son’s game will only get better.
However, it’s going to be hard to get better than the feeling of finally getting inside the house that Tark built, a place so revered it made the wedding photo album, and looking down to see a kid in a headband playing McCaw family basketball for UNLV.
“Seeing him in a Rebel uniform, it was unreal,” Jeff McCaw said. “… To be a part of the UNLV family is amazing.”