Returning Home: Mitch McCarron is back

After five seasons overseas in the US and Spain and fresh from the LEB Gold championship with Palencia, combo guard Mitch McCarron is back in Australia and excited to be a part of the growing NBL with the Cairns Taipans.

McCarron's basketball journey began in a part of the United States with a strangely rich history of Aussie basketball: Denver, Colorado.

Having suited up for Australia in the 2011 FIBA U19 World Cup in Latvia, McCarron made enough of a mark to attract interest from several US colleges. Following the likes of fellow Australians David Barlow and Mark Worthington, McCarron eventually decided on attending Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver). It was a path that could, and would lead to great success.

After sitting out a season --a result of overstepping NCAA eligibility rules when he played a few semi-pro games in Australia-- McCarron gained recognition in MSU, and became a star in his own right. He clocked a myriad of school records; placing third in all-time scoring average (16.3 points), seventh in free throws attempted, and rebounding average (6.7).

The NBA draft experience

Following his stint at Metro, McCarron gave the NBA his best shot. The NBA draft process was a good learning opportunity for the rising star, matching it with the best college talent in one on one workouts and testing his limits. Being the DII guy was just another hurdle for McCarron to deal with.

“I didn’t really feel different (being a DII guy), other people judged me a bit. But, I don’t have a huge chip on my shoulder about it, but at the same time I did see it. You walk into the gym and ‘it’s the DII kid’, it’s not necessarily the kid from Metro. It’s kind of very obvious around some of the other players, they instantly don’t respect you or it’s just the feel they get when they talk to you about how was DII?"

"Overall I was happy (with my draft workouts). I shot the ball pretty well, especially in the later workouts. If I could go back, I would probably be a bit more aggressive in the Nuggets workout, in terms of energy and vocals, I didn’t do a lot of talking. I felt like I competed and played as well as the guys I played against."

After going undrafted in the 2015 NBA draft, McCarron made his way to Spain, and life as he knew it, was turned on its head.

Life after college: Embarking on a professional career

McCarron headed to Palencia following a decorated career at MSU Denver in which McCarron was named National DII Player of the year and finished sixth all-time on the total points list for the Roadrunners, among other honours.

Palencia was a big change for the college standout. Not only was the style of play different, the type of players he faced were cut from an entirely different cloth. Hardened, grizzled veterans, these professionals loved feasting on fresh international talent who had yet to adjust to the professional game. There was a sense that McCarron actually enjoyed the challenge. He respected the veterans on his team, and relished the opportunity to get paid to do what he loved; playing basketball.

“Guys, that with all respect, you look at and you just don’t know what they can do," McCarron advised of the players he encountered in Europe. "They can do a bit of everything and so you can’t take anyone for granted. They’re extremely skilled, great shooters, great passers, they’re very smart."

"So you might get on the floor and think that you’ve got a mismatch, but they’ve just got so much experience, especially in LEB Gold with a lot of older player who just really know how to play basketball."

Not only was McCarron in a new country, basketball at that time seemed like an entirely new game to him.

“It was an adjustment when I first got to Spain," McCarron further explained. "Especially coming out of the college system where we played the same style for four years, and got very used to that system and style of play. Then you go to Spain and it is completely the opposite."

"I think it is very dribble-heavy, there are a ton of on-ball screens and just defensively it is very different. You have to lock and trail very closely, you can’t go under screens and the schemes are different."

"It did take some time when I first got here to learn what the team wanted, but it was easy to fit in because I had such great teammates, and that is why we had such a great start to the season.”

Despite the initial apprehension, McCarron adjusted to his new team just fine. He contributed 7.6 points on 48% shooting, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 20 minutes for the 23-7 league champions. Having made the most of the season, he took advantage of the unusual LEB Gold's playoff rules, and headed back home.

“It is a bit bizarre, but if you win the regular season in the LEB Gold you don’t have to play in the playoffs, that’s why I left mid-April."

Having secured a promising rookie season in his first outing as a professional, it was time for McCarron to reassess his options once more. Would he pursue his career further Europe or head home to Australia to play in the NBL?

The National Basketball League

With offers streaming in from across Europe and Australia, it was a tough decision for McCarron. In the end, the NBL prevailed; the opportunity in Cairns seemed like it was too good to pass up.

“My agent started to talk to some coaches and compare the options for the next season," McCarron elaborated. "[He] looked at some interests in Europe and in the NBL, keeping our options open. It just so happened that some good offers popped up, and Cairns happened to be the best one."

The growth of the NBL and the attraction of home was ultimately what brought McCarron back to his home state.

“I think the league is looking really strong next season," added McCarron. "I don’t think there are going to be any weak teams. Especially [when] looking at some of the big signings around the league and the guys coming home, I think it is a sign of the strength and direction of the NBL."

"It’s exciting to be home. I mean, I wanted to be in Europe, I had a great year in Europe. But the opportunity on the court for Cairns was too good to pass up."

“... Looking at some of the other guys, there is a lot of experience... I think we will have a pretty dynamic guard lineup and I’m going to go up there aggressive. Defensively, I’ve improved a lot over the past two years and I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Cairns made McCarron a priority signing this off-season and head coach Aaron Fearne is impressed by what he sees in McCaron.

“We definitely rated Mitch as one of the top guards in the free agent group this off-season," Fearne said according to an official release. "I’m excited for him to join our team. He is a really top quality person and he has a bright future ahead of him.”

The Olympics

The chance to play at home will hopefully help McCarron fulfill his goal of one day competing at the Olympics for the green and gold.

“I’ve always want to be a Boomer since I was a kid," shared McCarron. "My dad brought me everywhere when he was coaching, and I met a lot of people who were all so excited and proud to wear the Australian singlet and be around the Australian team. That is something that I was very envious of when I was a kid, and I wanted to be that guy. Step by step I’m getting closer, and I really want to be a part of that squad in the coming years and hopefully my time in Cairns can push me towards that. Guys like Mark Worthington, who came through Metro State, did very similar things and I’m trying to follow that path as an Olympian."

Australia is currently in a golden generation of basketball talent. Unfortunately for McCarron, he plays a position already filled by NBA players Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Dante Exum. Whilst it is fair to say McCarron is far from intimidated by his more experienced peers, the respect is there, but so is the competitive drive to unseat those that occupy the Boomers singlet he desires.

Having represented Australia at the 2015 World University Games, McCarron has tasted what it is like to represent his country. After five years spent abroad honing his game, the upcoming NBL season will be an important one for the youthful guard as he looks to prove himself in the league.