As the 2018-19 season kicks off, the Georgetown men’s basketball freshman class will include two guards whose reputations precede them. Mac McClung is a viral dunking sensation who broke high school scoring records set by Allen Iverson, while four-star recruit James Akinjo turned down an offer from the University of Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed in last season’s NCAA tournament, to attend Georgetown.
Expectations are high for both McClung and Akinjo, and high expectations beget pressure from both fans and the media. Right now, with the departure of seven upperclassmen looming, Akinjo and McClung represent the future of the Georgetown basketball program.
Akinjo dominated the high school and AAU basketball scene his senior year, leading the Oakland Soldiers to a title in the 2017 Peach Jam Tournament and claiming the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Meanwhile, McClung, a local recruit from Gate City, Va., broke Georgetown legend Iverson’s single-season scoring record of 948 points in the state of Virginia, which Iverson had held for over 20 years. McClung finished last year with 1,153 points, scoring 2,801 in his high school career.
McClung has quickly become a household name among Georgetown fans for his viral dunking highlight videos. Two of his videos have more than 1.2 million views each, and rapper Drake has asked McClung for a jersey.
McClung garnered nationwide intrigue during his high school career for his unparalleled athleticism and dunking ability. McClung’s ability to throw down SportsCenter Top 10-worthy dunks mid-game while standing at 6 feet, 2 inches has generated a level of excitement about a Georgetown recruit that has been absent for the past several seasons.
McClung’s teammates have taken notice of his presence on campus this fall.
“There is a bunch of excitement,” senior guard Greg Malinowski said at the Georgetown men’s basketball media day. “Coming in with [Patrick] Ewing last year obviously, but even this year with the freshmen. The stands were getting a lot more packed, especially for Mac. His following will hopefully bring a lot more supporters, which is great for everybody.”
Still, Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) did not bring McClung to campus simply for his dunking ability. McClung’s athleticism allows him to thrive in transition play, whether that involves setting up his teammates or finishing above the rim through traffic.
In the half-court offense, McClung can score in a variety of ways. He is adept at using his quick first step to get past his primary defender or create space for a step-back jump shot. And he never shies away from an open shot.
Junior guard Jagan Mosely emphasized that McClung can score at the rim, off the dribble and from behind the three-point line.
“With Mac, his scoring ability [is impressive],” Mosely said at media day. “He can get to the rim with ease, and he also is a very good shooter, which a lot of people really don’t know about him.”
McClung put his offensive skills on display throughout his high school career at Gate City. Named the Bristol Herald Courier’s 2017-18 boys’ basketball player of the year, he averaged 38.4 points per game, eight rebounds per game, four assists per game and three steals per game.
McClung’s high school career culminated in a dominating performance in the Virginia High School League Class 2 basketball championship in March 2018, where he led Gate City to an 80-65 victory over Robert E. Lee High School.
With Ewing in attendance at the game, McClung scored 47 points on over-70-percent shooting, dished out five assists, hauled in three rebounds, blocked three shots and recorded two steals in the game.
Ewing said he recruited McClung for his all-around ability and passion.
“I love Mac. I love his toughness; I love his intensity,” Ewing said at media day. “That’s one of the reasons why I recruited him. It’s not just about the dunks or all the highlight reels that fans love; that’s for the fans. Me as a coach loved his ability, his toughness. He’s not going to back down from anyone.”
McClung’s new partner in the back court, Akinjo, certainly made his mark during his high school and AAU career as well. Arguably his most impressive accomplishment came in the 2017 Peach Jam Tournament, a competitive AAU Tournament in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball Division 1 Circuit, where he led the Oakland Soldiers to a championship.
Akinjo averaged 18.8 points, 6.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game against some of the top teams in the nation, earning MVP of the tournament.
For historical context, the co-MVPs of the 2016 Peach Jam Tournament were Trae Young, the fifth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and Michael Porter Jr., the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Not bad company for Akinjo.
Akinjo committed to the Hoyas after decommitting from the University of Connecticut amid Head Coach Kevin Ollie’s dismissal from the program. Ollie was fired in March for impermissible contact with recruits, including arranging a call between a potential recruit and UConn legend Ray Allen. Akinjo’s commitment marked Ewing’s biggest recruiting victory since he began his tenure on the Hilltop. Akinjo was ranked ninth in the state of California for high school recruits by ESPN and received offers from both the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia.
Though undersized, Akinjo has the ability to carry an offense for long periods of time with his creative ball handling and shooting abilities. Akinjo’s vision also allows him to get his teammates involved consistently throughout the game.
Mosely said that Akinjo has the ability to find his teammates in open positions and score in transition.
“James, being a two-way guard, he can push the tempo, get everybody involved, and he can also score for us,” Mosely said.
Akinjo’s strong on-ball defense and competitive nature rounds out his impressive skillset. At only 6 feet tall, Akinjo uses his quick footwork and anticipation to shut down opposing point guards.
Hoya fans received a glimpse of the basketball team’s future this summer, as Akinjo and McClung were paired together on the same team in the Kenner League, a summer league based in Washington, D.C. While competition in the Kenner League is not at the level of Big East conference play, the opportunity allowed the two freshman Hoyas to work out a rhythm. Both players consistently dominated opposition with their wide-ranging talents. Akinjo averaged 22 points per game over a seven-game stretch, while McClung averaged 25.4 games over a five-game period.
Nevertheless, Ewing cautioned Hoya fans to exercise patience with both players, as Big East basketball presents more challenges than the high school game.
“They’re still growing,” Ewing said. “High school is a lot different than college. Things they were able to get away with in high school they won’t be able to get away with in college, especially the Big East. Everyone is growing. They’re growing; we’re growing together with them, but I expect them to have great college careers.”