Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 | 2 a.m.
For Brandon McCoy, the countdown is on.
There are four games left in the regular season for UNLV, followed by the Mountain West tournament, and if things go well, another game or two in the NIT (or if things go really well, the NCAA tournament). A half dozen games, give or take, and then it's decision time for McCoy.
Will he declare for the NBA draft?
He came to UNLV as a five-star recruit, advertised as an instant-impact big man. McCoy has fulfilled that hype, as he's averaging a team-high 17.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, and he has been the key piece in the Rebels' turnaround from an 11-20 joke to a team on the verge of a 20-win season (19-8, 8-6 MWC).
McCoy was also advertised as a surefire one-and-done prospect, however, and it appears he's lived up to that billing as well. Recent mock drafts published by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports and NBADraft.net all have him pegged as a first-round pick, slotted somewhere between picks No. 24 and 26.
Last week, McCoy addressed questions about his NBA future by kicking the can down the road.
"I'm just focused on the season that's in front of me right now and just trying to win a conference championship," he said. "Maybe after the season I'll think about it."
It's a stock answer, but McCoy realizes that any other response would be doing himself a disservice. If he were to talk openly about the draft and his eagerness to turn pro, fans would accuse him of having one foot out the door while there are still important games to be played at UNLV. And if he were to muse about sticking around for another year of college, fans would get their hopes up and hold him to that statement.
So McCoy is sticking to non-answers for now and putting all his energy into improving his game, which serves a dual purpose of helping the Rebels and his NBA stock at the same time.
McCoy is peaking at the right time. In addition to his efficient scoring, which has been a constant throughout the season (57.3 field goal percentage, 1.021 points per possession), he is starting to make an impact on the defensive end as well.
In his first 19 games, the 7-footer was essentially a non-factor at that end of the court. It led to him losing playing time to backup big man Mbacke Diong in critical situations, and it wasn't something NBA scouts want to see when evaluating big men for the modern NBA.
McCoy has made progress though. After averaging 0.8 blocks through the first six Mountain West games, McCoy has swatted 2.9 per game over the last eight games. He has blocked at least two shots in each of those games, including five against Air Force on Wednesday and four against San Diego State on Saturday.
UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies credited McCoy's work ethic for his overall improvement over the course of the season.
"I think it's a process, and people are just seeing the process of his work and his commitment to his own improvement," Menzies said. "Some of it's obviously what we're doing to help him, but he also has a high level of pride and wanting to be the best he can be, so I think it's really more about his attitude and mentality that's continuing him to improve on a regular basis."
If McCoy can convince professional talent evaluators that he can defend at the NBA level, he'll likely be tabbed as a first-round prospect. If they doubt his defense, however, there's a chance he could follow in the footsteps of previous UNLV big men like Khem Birch (undrafted), Chris Wood (undrafted) and Stephen Zimmerman (second round), all of whom have faced long, hard roads to making a living in pro ball.
While the mock drafts seem to agree he's worthy of a first-round selection, McCoy isn't buying the hype — yet.
"I don't really get caught up in [mock drafts] because that's not what the NBA GM's are saying, so I'm not really focused on that," he said. "I'm focused on making my game as great as I can for when I do go to the next level."
Whether he sticks to the one-and-done plan or chooses to stay another year at UNLV, the decision is McCoy's, and soon it will have to be made.