By Chris Gionta
Roselle Catholic High School (NJ) forward Mackenzie Mgbako is always looking to put himself against the best. It was evident when he committed to Duke University ﹣ a team always fighting with nationally-ranked teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). But, that drive to compete with top teams and players was also displayed when he transferred to Roselle Catholic for his senior year.
“I wanted to play for a national team, and I feel like Roselle [Catholic] was that place,” Mgbako said. “[I wanted to play for a] winning team, with players who play against better players… I feel like the pace, the amount of dribbles you take, the shots you take, the shot selection and everything all comes into account.”
The Spalding Hoophall Classic is a familiar setting for Mgbako, who played for Gill St. Bernard’s School (NJ) at the event in 2022. In the Knights’ game against Westtown High School (PA), Mgbako put up a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds in a victory. On Sunday, he entered Blake Arena in Roselle Catholic colors.
Between Spalding Hoophall Classic appearances, he has committed to Duke and undergone a high school transfer. Along with that, Mgbako has seen improvements in his game.
“I definitely put on more weight, so I’m more physical,” Mgbako said. “I feel like I’m a little more aggressive. My shooting percentage wasn’t the greatest today, but I feel like I’ve refined my shot, so that’s a little bit better.”
Roselle Catholic was ranked No. 6 in the country at the end of last year by USA Today after the Lions went 29-2. As the team looked to its next season, coaches and players were excited to see Mgbako transfer to the school in August.
“Obviously, any time you’re going to get a player of Mackenzie [Mgbako]’s ability, it’s a great addition to the program,” Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said. “He’s a good kid, good student. He’s fit in well with the other guys.”
He has already proven to be an elite acquisition early in the Lions’ season. He nearly averages a double-double, and that has surely made an impression.
“He’s a great offensive player, and the thing I’m probably most proud of him for right now is the way that he’s been on the glass,” Boff said. “He’s been our leading rebounder in almost every game that he’s played, and I think that’s something he’s been focused on this year, and he’s certainly doing a good job with that.”
Before switching high schools, Mgbako already knew what college he was going to. On April 9, 2022, he announced his commitment to play for the Blue Devils. Most of the top prospects decide later in the year, but Duke was love at first sight for him.
“I was pretty sold the first time I got there,” Mgbako said.
With the Blue Devils having five national championships in program history ﹣ all after 1990 ﹣ there is an understanding of the prestige that comes with the program. However, what Mgbako is focused on is the potential of number six.
“There is definitely the aspect of winning culture, but what it comes down to is what happens when you’re there [at Duke] that year,” he said.
At the forefront of leadership for all five of Duke’s titles was head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who retired after last season. Luckily, Mgbako is very satisfied to be playing under new leading man Jon Scheyer.
“I’ve seen him coach a little bit. I’ve seen how he trusts his players, how he coaches them, how he lets them rock. And I like that,” Mgbako said.
As the cliché goes: to be the best, you have to beat the best. Mgbako is taking all the steps to place himself against the highest competition, and as a result, he is one of the most elite high school players in the country.
Photo: Daniel Curren/The Student