Title: Alfonzo McKinnie’s Long and Unlikely Journey to the Raptors
Date: July 18, 2017
Original Source: Vice
Synopsis: For my latest at Vice, I wrote about Alfonzo McKinnie and his long, circuitous odyssey to the doorstep of the NBA.
It all started with a spreadsheet. Kind of. Alfonzo McKinnie’s two-year journey from lightly regarded college basketball player to member of the Toronto Raptors is a wild one, and if it were not for a few good breaks, an insatiable work ethic in the face of adversity, and a few lines of code, it may not be on the precipice of such a remarkable conclusion.
Coming out of Green Bay in 2015, McKinnie hardly received a second thought. After two years at Eastern Illinois, he’d been forced to redshirt a year, then tore the meniscus in his right knee twice. It rendered him a fifth-year senior who, while solid in a fluid role, had little momentum on the draft circuit. What McKinnie did exceptionally well that season, though, was pull in offensive rebounds, grabbing 10.7 percent of those available when he was on the court, something he’d always done well.
Some 4,000 miles away, Christophe Ney was putting together a spreadsheet of all Division I seniors, scouring the recesses of the basketball world in hopes of finding someone under the radar. Ney, the head coach of the recently promoted East Side Pirates of Luxembourg’s second division, was hoping to land an import player for his small-market club, and he wanted someone with a strong offensive rebounding rate and solid outside shooting. Teams in that division can roster up to three imported players, but Ney was hoping to pool his modest budget for imports into one impact signing, and his spreadsheet was the best first-pass he had available to him.
McKinnie, though, wasn’t a shooter. Over his college career, he’d posted only an average true-shooting percentage, knocking down 35.1 percent of his threes on fewer than one attempt per game. He was also a shaky free-throw shooter, something Ney recognized as a harbinger of overall shooting ability.
“He was one of the players that came out of these criteria,” Ney says. “But in the beginning, I was not really following up on him because he had a poor free-throw percentage and this was more or less a red flag.”