TEMPE, Ariz. — Whatever the coach wants, Patrick McCaw says he’s willing to do it. All players say it, and some actually mean it. McCaw means it, because he was raised as the son of a coach.
It also helps that he’s able to do just about everything, and that’s why the 6-foot-6-inch freshman has become so valuable to UNLV coach Dave Rice.
“I’ve just been around basketball so long,” McCaw said. “About 3 years old is probably when I started. It’s something I was born to do, I think.”
McCaw did not arrive as the most heralded member of the Rebels’ five-man freshman class, but his coaches and teammates can’t stop talking about him now. It’s not because he leads the team in scoring or rebounding. He’s not even starting. But he has contributed in a variety of ways and finished games early in the season.
UNLV (4-1) plays its first true road game against Arizona State (4-2) at 5 p.m. today at Wells Fargo Arena, and when Rice looks to his bench, McCaw will be one of the first players to get the call.
“I need to get him in the game. I very much like having him in the game,” Rice said. “It’s nice when you have guys you can bring off the bench and feel like there’s no drop-off at all. I think Patrick is as versatile a player as we have on our team. He makes plays on both ends of the floor.”
McCaw did exactly that to help the Rebels beat Temple on Nov. 22 in New York. The Owls had rallied to within three points when McCaw chased down a loose ball and scored on a breakaway layup with 50 seconds remaining.
“I feel like that steal changed the whole game,” he said. “I feel like hustle plays spark momentum.”
McCaw learned the details of the game from his dad, Jeffery, a high school coach. After growing up in St. Louis, he played against elite competition during his senior year at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md.
He was ranked by ESPN.com as the No. 38 shooting guard in the 2014 class. In the opinion of UNLV’s coaches, he was underrated. Rice admired his on-court intelligence as much as his skills.
“We knew he was a high-basketball IQ guy,” Rice said. “I’ve played him at four different spots, and he’s handled every one of those spots.”
McCaw has moved ahead of sophomore Kendall Smith, who is recovering from an ankle injury, to assume the primary backup point guard role to Cody Doolin. McCaw also relieves freshman scoring leader Rashad Vaughn at shooting guard and sees occasional minutes at the 3 and 4 spots. At a wiry 180 pounds, the only position he can’t handle is center.
Through five games, McCaw is the Rebels’ fourth-leading scorer (6.2 points per game) while averaging 21.8 minutes. He has made 6 of 17 3-pointers and will continue to be a perimeter shooting threat.
“I think guys are starting to figure out what their roles are on this team,” McCaw said. “I’m playing multiple positions, and I enjoy it. I have decent court awareness. I think I can be a better defender.”
Rice is reluctant to take Doolin, a senior with 108 career starts, off the floor. But when Doolin does need a break, Rice is gaining confidence in McCaw’s ability to run the offense.
“He’s got good basketball instincts,” Doolin said. “He sees a lot of things out on the court, and he takes good shots. He can handle the ball, and he’s got size. I think we all can see Pat is going to be a great player.”
McCaw is most comfortable as a shooting guard, but he did play the point at times as a junior and senior in high school.
“Cody is a hard act to follow,” McCaw said. “He’s a great leader, and I enjoy watching him play.”
If it seems McCaw understands the game at a level above most freshmen, it’s because his dad coached him from age 3.
“He wasn’t really tough on me,” McCaw said, “but he’s always going to be on you after the game, telling you what you did wrong and what you did right.”
■ NOTES — Savon Goodman, who spent his freshman season at UNLV and left school amid legal issues, is on the Arizona State roster but is not eligible to play until after the fall semester. … This is a revenge game for the Rebels. Last year at the Thomas & Mack Center, point guard Jahii Carson scored 40 points to lift the Sun Devils to an 86-80 comeback victory. Carson left early for the NBA and went undrafted.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.
UNLV at ARIZONA STATE
■ WHEN: 5 p.m. today
■ WHERE: Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
■ TV/RADIO: Pac-12 Network (334); KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
■ LINE: Arizona State -5