Darius McGhee has always loved basketball.
The smaller guard, who is on the doorstep of reaching the NBA, has always adored the game. As a kid, he used to do basketball drills with his uncle, and his family remembers him working on his skills at a young age.
“I think I was just one of those kids that always loved it,” McGhee, who played in Summer League with the Indiana Pacers in July, said of basketball. “There’s stories from my mom and grandmother of me doing something basketball-like when I was one to two years old.”
The sport has been a major part of McGhee’s life in the two decades since. He grew up in North Carolina and played the majority of his high school basketball in Roxboro before moving to Virginia for his final pre-college season. Before that, he would improve his skills with his family, including his uncle, James.
“I was fortunate enough to have uncles who really loved the game and played the game,” McGhee shared. He appreciated their tips — he doesn’t like to be bad at anything and has a competitive fire. His uncles helped him stick with the sport. “I got to kind of be on their coattails growing up and go to the gym with them. They would put me through little basketball drills as a kid.”
They became a lifeline for the five-foot-nine-inch guard, and they helped get his journey started. “Probably just working on different crossovers. Trying to take the ball from my uncle,” McGhee said of the drills he was put through. “To this day, my game is kind of the exact same as his.”
McGhee kept his journey going by himself. When he moved away from home to Virginia, he attended the Blue Ridge School. Instantly, he was a star for the basketball program. He led the team to a state championship in his only year on the roster, and he averaged nearly 20 points per game.
The sweet-shooting guard was clearly talented, and he was going to continue his basketball career into the NCAA ranks. He didn’t have many offers — Verbal Commits only lists Campbell University, High Point University, and Liberty University — but he was headed to Division I. Despite High Point and Campbell being in his home state, McGhee stayed in Virginia to play with Liberty and the Flames.
There isn’t much of an NBA pipeline coming from Liberty University. So far, the only three players, per Basketball Reference, from the school to reach the NBA are Julius Nwosu, Peter Aluma, and Seth Curry. The former two both made it to the association in the 1990s and combined for 25 games of action. Curry, meanwhile, is still an active player with nine years of NBA experience, but he is better known for his time with Duke University at the college level. He spent one season with Liberty before transferring to Duke for his last four NCAA seasons.
McGhee, at times, had an idea that the NBA could be in his future. As a kid, back when his favorite player was three-time All-Star Steve Francis, it crossed his mind. But the thoughts came and went.
“As a kid, I always had the dream,” McGhee said of the NBA. “But as I got older, I think I kind of got lost in just the journey.” He didn’t put his eyes heavily on the pros until his fourth season with the Flames.
During that season, McGhee’s production exploded. He started taking, and making, three pointers at an unprecedented volume. During his fourth campaign at Liberty, he launched 11 threes per game, and 39% of them dropped. He attempted 364 outside shots that season, nearly more than his freshman and sophomore seasons combined (376).
Those numbers put McGhee onto the NBA radar. He remembers one particular game getting the thought of going pro back into his head — a 41-point masterpiece against Stanford University on December 23, 2021. The game was in Honolulu, Hawaii, and McGhee nearly led the Flames to the upset with his scoring output. He nailed seven threes and got to the foul line eight times.
The NBA felt more real again, and McGhee went on to average 24.6 points per game that season. He became a hot name in college basketball and led Liberty to the ASUN regular-season title.
McGhee opted to return to school instead of going pro, though. He wanted to stay with the program, and the coaching staff, who saw something in him and encouraged him to become a high-volume shooter.
“All the coaches I’ve had my entire life,” McGhee said when asked who pushed him to shoot. The Liberty staff had a ton of confidence in the young guard. There, the team tried to emulate the Golden State Warriors. They stole a lot of actions and quick-hitters from the NBA squad, who has won four titles in the last decade.
The Warriors comparisons don’t end there for McGhee. Stephen Curry, the two-time MVP and one of the best shooters on the planet, was the first name out of McGhee’s mouth when he was naming players he tries to study and copy. Damian Lillard and Francis were mentioned as well.
Before his collegiate coaches, it was McGhee’s uncles encouraging him to shoot. Sometimes, they wanted him to back up even further beyond the three-point arc. Because of his size, they persuaded him to step back.
That all ended up paying off. In his final season at Liberty, McGhee attempted 11.4 threes per game and made 39.4% of them. He attempted 411 threes in total, more than his sophomore and junior seasons combined (409). His volume kept rising, and it didn’t hurt his accuracy at all.
McGhee would go on to set the ASUN all-time scoring record that year and led the Flames to the NIT, where they took down Villanova before falling to Wisconsin. McGhee had 26 points in the first-round win.
His shooting numbers were a statement, and he was ready for the NBA. He had pre-draft workouts with multiple teams, including the Pacers, before the 2023 NBA Draft. But McGhee was ultimately not selected.
That night, though, the 24-year old agreed to play in Summer League for the blue and gold. It was an easy decision for McGhee to choose Indiana. He thought his best pre-draft workout was for the team, and he fell in love with the city.
“The workout went great. Kind of fell in love with the organization,” McGhee said of the Pacers. The energy was exactly what McGhee likes. “We got to walk through the streets and go to lunch together… You could just tell Indiana is a great place, a great fit. They have a lot of great things going on.”
In Summer League, the rookie guard got to learn from the likes of Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin. Learning is among his goals for his rookie season, though he isn’t much of a goal setter.
In two outings, McGhee averaged 6.5 ponts and 2.0 assists per game. He did, of course, find a way to get up six three pointers in just 25 minutes of play.
“Just to learn as much as possible. The summer league experience is something I will always cherish,” McGhee shared.
Between college, the pre-draft process, and Summer League, McGhee had proved enough. Despite getting lost in his journey before, he showed NBA teams that he had enough talent to be a pro. About a month after Summer League, Liberty announced that McGhee had agreed to an Exhibit 10 contract with the Pacers. That means it’s a one-year, non-guaranteed deal at the minimum salary. He will be in the mix during training camp and could end up in the Pacers organization via the G League.
Indiana is exactly what McGhee wanted. “It was a very quick conversation. I was definitely excited to be with Indiana again,” he said of his chat with his agent. “When you find a great thing, you want that great thing, you want to stay with that great thing. It was a quick call.” Nothing more needed to be discussed. McGhee is joining the Pacers.
He called his mom right away. She has always been an important figure in his life, and she needed to know first. Darius McGhee is heading to the NBA.
After years of work with his uncles and a college coaching staff that believed in him, McGhee made it. Training camp begins for the Pacers in under a month, and McGhee should sign his deal around then. That’s when the next step of his unique journey will begin.