By Sean Savage
Picture this: three-year-old Jared McCain had one aspiration – to play on his brother Jayce’s team.
“Jared went to everything Jayce went to in relation to basketball,” said Jared’s mom, Jina. But, there was a catch: Jayce was four years older than him.
Jina and her husband, Lance, came up with an agreement.
“Once you [Jared] can make it in a 10-foot hoop three times in a row, we will put you on a team,” Jina said. “He worked relentlessly.”
It wasn’t long before Jared sank one, then two and then all three shots. He ended up playing on a team the same year. His first bucket just so happened to be on his own team‘s hoop.
Now, picture this: Jared McCain is in high school. It’s the crack of dawn in Corona, a small city on Los Angeles’s outskirts, and he is starting his morning routine. He wakes up and heads over to a small, bright-yellow piece of paper he calls his “dream board” – and he intensely stares at it. Listed are his aspirations, with checkmarks next to each goal he has completed.
“We always talked about goals growing up,” Jina said. “Once he saw the board was something he could one day achieve, it was really exciting.”
Then he enters his living room, where a pink yoga mat awaits.
Relax, concentrate, and breathe. McCain goes through his morning yoga and meditation routine.
“I am a big believer in manifesting and meditation and just seeing what you are going to do in the future,” McCain said.
After he finishes, he gathers his backpack and gym bag, slips on his rainbow-colored crocs and pink Nike shorts, and steps into his mother’s car to make his two-hour trek to PJ Performance so he can get a workout in before the school day starts. He repeats this every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
That routine propelled him to become the phenom he is today: a 6-foot-2, 195-pound shooting guard for Centennial (CA) High school and the No. 16-ranked recruit in the Class of 2023.
Josh Giles, the 2021-22 MaxPreps National Coach of the Year, has served as head coach at Centennial for nearly two decades and owns a 447-136 record. During that time, he has seen his fair share of Division 1 prospects, coaching several future college stars.
From the moment he first became acquainted with McCain, it was clear to Giles that he was witnessing something special. He saw a player with exceptional talent, prompting him to make the rare call to make extra space, stepping away from three Division I players, on the roster for McCain.
“We told one player that we would be better off without him playing for Centennial,” Giles said. “Another one kind of left, we encouraged another player to quit.”
And it was the right call. They had a great year after letting the players walk. “It is a testament to the leader [McCain] is,” Giles said.
Coupled with this, McCain is a 4.0 student. A large part of this is getting up at 5:30 am to do homework, pray and read.
“He is such a great kid,” Giles said. This past December, McCain went Christmas shopping and bought the whole team Nike tech sweat outfits and Jordan shoes.
“Every YouTube video and documentation on McCain highlights his work ethic,” said Giles. “But that doesn’t even do it justice. They leave a ton of stuff out. He works so hard it is crazy.”
As McCain’s time at Centennial passed, he became a more skilled and efficient guard. He developed value as a spot-up shooter and efficient floor-spacer within the offensive structure.
“I have seen him learn the game very well. Each day, he very intently tries to make his team better,” his mom said. “It is more about making the team better.”
In addition, he learned to have a very compact release on his jumper, with almost no dip prior to his release, which gives him added gravity around the arc.
McCain’s consistent hard work sparked him to check more and more boxes on his “dream board.” Because of his play on the court, McCain was named the 2021-22 California Gatorade State Player of the Year. Additionally, he won gold with Team USA U18 National Team in Mexico and, in 2023, accepted a scholarship offer to play for one of the most prestigious programs in college basketball, Duke.
And now, after pouring in a game-high 27 points in Corona Centennial’s 66-62 win over Camden (NJ) High School on Saturday at the 2023 Spalding Hoophall Classic, he can check off one more goal on his dream board.
“[The Hoophall experience] was everything I wanted and more,” McCain said. “Everything is going to be great after coming home with a win. I don’t care what is for dinner tonight,” he added jokingly.
Outside of hoops, McCain is also a social media sensation, with 1.8 million TikTok followers. After many games, practices, or school days, McCain can often be seen dancing away. However, being an influencer also comes with backlash.
“He is really conscious when he puts things out,” his mom said.
In hopes of avoiding negativity, McCain releases his video pre-games.
Any time he misses a shot, loses a game, or does not play up to par, haters let him hear it. But McCain knows to tune out all distractions when he is on the court.
“With any other player, those things [the hate] could be difficult,” Giles said. “But, because he is such a driven and focused kid he just knows to work harder… He is the dream superstar of any coach.”
Photo: Ty Coney / The Student