From Walk-On To Team Captain

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The four seniors who came together in former Ohio coach John Groce’s 2009 recruiting class have accomplished a lot during their four years in Athens. In the twilight of their college careers, their group and individual success is more apparent than ever before.

They’re the most successful senior class in Ohio basketball history with plenty of banners to prove it. Their 90 wins to-date is the most in a four year span for Ohio. They’ve made it to the NCAA tournament twice, knocking off No. 3 Georgetown and No. 4 Michigan 65-60 in those trips.

They’ve been to the Sweet Sixteen once, sending No. 1 seed North Carolina into overtime last season. They’ve also won the Mid-American Conference tournament twice.

Ivo Baltic and Reggie Keely each have 1,000 points in their careers; D.J. Cooper is nearing 2,000. Keely and Baltic are 600 rebound guys — Cooper is just two boards away from reaching that milestone. Cooper is also on the verge of completing possibly the most prolific all-around career in NCAA history.

Then there is David McKinley.

Unlike the other three seniors, McKinley, or D-Mac as he is lovingly referred to by his teammates, isn’t a star, a starter or even on scholarship. He doesn’t even have 50 career points or 10 career rebounds. He’s never started or played more than 49 minutes in a single season. But that hasn’t prevented the pint-sized walk-on from having a huge impact on the Ohio Bobcats basketball team during his four years on campus.

When asked how much McKinley has meant to the success Ohio’s had over the past four years, Cooper the star of the class, doesn’t hesitate.

“A lot,” he said emphatically.  “He doesn't speak much but his leadership, he speaks by his actions. He does the right thing. He's an everyday guy like I said. He carries us a lot (on and) off the court. We look for him and his leadership.”

Cooper is not alone in his feelings about his backup. Ask around and you quickly get the feeling that McKinley might be one of the most important people on the team. While he might not see the court a lot, what he does behind the scenes is just as important as what the other three seniors he came in with have done on the court. Coach Jim Christian certainly believes that.

“D-Mac is a valuable part of our team. He's one of our captains,” Christian said. “Though you don't see it in games, he doesn’t play as many minutes as some guys, his role is equally as valuable.”

McKinley was elected as one of the team’s two captains by his teammates before the season. His team-first attitude and relentless work ethic are two of the main reasons why.

Those traits were established during his highly successful high school career. In his three years on varsity, he led the Dublin Scioto Irish to a combined 66-6 overall record. In his senior season the team went 24-2, their final loss coming to the eventual state champion Northland Vikings in the regional round of the Ohio state tournament.

In that game, McKinley and the Irish went up against one of the greatest teams in Ohio high school history. The Vikings featured three star players in Jared Sullinger, J.D. Weatherspoon and Trey Burke. McKinley and the Irish gave it their best shot but eventually lost in overtime, 54-53.

McKinley admits that game wasn’t his best showing. His only points that day came on the one three pointer he made. The loss still hurts him today he says, but part of what has made him so valuable to the Bobcats is his positive attitude about everything, including the biggest loss in his life.

“It was definitely a disappointment, but they ended up winning the state championship so it's not too much to hang your head over,” McKinley said with his trademarked smile.

He suspected his career was over, admitting that the only looks he was getting were from Division III schools. But his fiancé’s sister, then a graduate assistant with the women’s soccer team at Ohio, took it upon herself to reach out to Coach Groce and see if he could use a scrappy, smart hardworking walk on. A few days later McKinley was speaking with Groce himself.

“I didn't even know she was doing it,” he said laughing. “They needed a guard that was a walk-on … so I came down a couple times in the summer and just played open gyms. Then once school started I did all of the weightlifting and conditioning and skill workouts. Things like that. At the end of the summer I made the team."

The fall of his freshman year in college, McKinley joined the class that has gone on to have the greatest collective run in the program’s history and quickly got to work.

“I realized what my role is from the start,” he said. “I play the same position as D.J. (Cooper). We need him out there as much as we can.

“I just got to bring it every day at practice. You know, set the tone for practice a little bit. Just be an energy guy out there, talking, communicating, making sure guys are in the right spots. Getting them a good look on the scout team (too).”

That approach has won him so much praise during his time on the team. He’s beloved by the team and highly respected as well. Cooper even refers to him as a “top-five walk on in the country.”

But it’s not just teammates and coaches that have grown to love and respect D-Mac.

In Wednesday night’s win over Eastern Michigan, McKinley stepped onto the court with less than three minutes left in the game and sank a three from the far left corner to put Ohio up 71-47. The result was an eruption of cheers from the Ohio student section, which has become a common scene during his four-year tenure at Ohio.

“It definitely feels good,” McKinley said with a glowing smile. “Yeah it's definitely rewarding … I don't get in a ton and they're cheering my name over there waiting for me to get in and stuff. So it definitely feels good. I don't even know how it got started, it just kind of happened.”

His level head and unassuming nature make it hard for him to accept the truth. A truth that every teammate, every coach and every fan knows: he is one of the most important members of the greatest team in program history, and it didn’t just happen.

He earned it, every single minute, every single cheer. He just doesn’t realize it.