A strip on the size-18 Nikes of Washington Wizards rookie JaVale McGee bears a peculiar phrase, written neatly in black Sharpie.
“Kill + Mode = Cheese.”
Uh, come again?
Ask the 7-foot center the origin and he shrugs it off. “Oh, it’s just a saying,” he says dryly. But what does it mean?
“Well, if you’re in kill mode, like a mode where you feel like no one can stop you, and you just work hard and no one can stop you, then you get cheese - success,” McGee says. “It’s just something my cousin and I thought up in high school.”
Dig a little deeper into that 20-year-old mind. Watch him closely on the practice court or in the first five games of his career. He has taken advantage of every minute given him, producing impressive flashes, regardless of how limited or extensive the playing time. It becomes evident that “Kill + Mode = Cheese” is more than a saying.
For McGee, selected by the Wizards 18th overall out of Nevada in June’s draft, “Kill + Mode = Cheese” is a mantra. It echoed in his head Dec. 27, 2007, when he faced North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough, swatted the eventual NCAA player of the year’s first two shots into the stands and finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Kill + Mode = Cheese.
That game was McGee’s coming-out party. It was also when Wizards vice president of player personnel Milt Newton fell in love with McGee and sold team president Ernie Grunfeld on the super-talented, athletic prospect as a slender yet muscular pogo stick with a 7-6 wingspan and basketball-woven genetics.
His father, George Montgomery, was a second-round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1985. His mother, Pamela McGee, was an NCAA champion and an All-American at Southern Cal, the winner of a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics and a WNBA title in Sacramento.
The draft experts remained unconvinced, believing McGee needed more time to hone his skills and bulk up to be ready to handle the battering that NBA centers absorb. And then there was this analysis from ESPN.com’s David Thorpe: “The D-League was made for players like McGee.”
“I saw that and said, ‘What?’” McGee says. “So I told myself I was going to work hard and be sure that, if I ever did get sent down to the D-League, everybody would say, ‘Huh? Why did they send him down there?’”
Although high on McGee’s potential, the Wizards didn’t expect to be able to count on him much this season. But last month, Brendan Haywood tore a ligament in his wrist and two weeks later had surgery that will cost him up to six months, making Etan Thomas the team’s only true center.
Suddenly, the transitional plan shifted into fast-forward. McGee used the preseason and first five games to make a case that he can offer serious contributions sooner rather than later. After just a small sampling, he has started to build a following.
“He can fly,” New Orleans’ Chris Paul says after a game in which McGee sent one of the guard’s pull-up jumpers into the stands. “He is easily one of the most athletic guys in the NBA. You can put him in that category with Dwight Howard.”