Mitch McGary's transformation

Originally Published: April 4, 2013
By Jason King | ESPN.com

As the Michigan Wolverines bounced around their locker room at Cowboys Stadium last Friday night, celebrating a Sweet 16 victory over Kansas, a member of the team's traveling party walked from stall to stall, carrying a box filled with hamburgers wrapped in foil.

After what was easily their most hard-fought win of the season -- Michigan rallied from a 14-point deficit and won in overtime -- the Wolverines were eager for a postgame snack.

Well, most of them.

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
AP Photo/Morry GashMitch McGary is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the NCAA tournament.

"You know I can't eat hamburgers, man," forward Mitch McGary. "I'm on a diet."

By turning away from the food, the 6-foot-10, 255-pound McGary provided a small glimpse into why he's blossomed into the top postseason performer for a Michigan squad that has advanced to its first Final Four in 20 years.

McGary -- who is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in Michigan's four NCAA tournament wins -- said he's lost 20 pounds since the beginning of the season. Back then, McGary probably would've accepted that offer for the postgame hamburger and then ordered a pizza back at the hotel.

M&M's were another favorite of McGary -- "because of my initials," he said -- and he often chose poor times to eat his meals.

"My metabolism slowed down," McGary said. "I guess it was from getting old and not eating the right foods. It wasn't the healthiest [diet].

"To get on the court, I knew I needed to make a change."

McGary began to keep a log of everything he ate. Michigan's strength and conditioning staff developed a high-protein, low-fat meal plan for McGary that helped him shed weight quickly.

All of a sudden, the player who would lose his balance and topple over while maneuvering through the paint has become one of the most agile and effective players on the court for Michigan.

"He gives us a great deal of energy," said coach John Beilein, whose team plays Syracuse in Saturday's NCAA semifinal. "The game has really slowed down for him. His ceiling is so high."

McGary had started just two games before the NCAA tournament, but these days he's impossible to keep off the court. McGary had 25 points, 14 rebounds and three steals against 7-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey. Two nights later, he scored eight of his team's first 11 points in an Elite Eight victory over Florida.

McGary said a lot of his buckets are coming because opposing defenses are keying on All-American point guard Trey Burke and his backcourt mate, Tim Hardaway Jr. While it's true that McGary has been the recipient of some easy dump-off passes, his athleticism coming off screens and his arsenal of moves in the paint enable him to finish plays that others couldn't.

"He's done a great job over the last few weeks of getting in the gym and getting his mind right," Burke said. "Mitch is the type of guy that can come off the bench and give us a spark or start and give us a spark.

"No matter what role he's in, he's going to help us regardless."

No one is surprised when McGary dives on the floor for a loose ball or takes a charge. And he's one of the few players in the country who can make a highlight reel by setting a vicious screen or firing one of his trademark outlet passes.

In some circles McGary has been tabbed as a "poor man's Kevin Love."

Everybody says the college game is so much faster, but I always played at a high speed. My body was moving too fast for the game. I actually needed to slow down a little bit during the season.

--Michigan freshman Mitch McGary

"Everybody says the college game is so much faster," McGary said, "but I always played at a high speed. My body was moving too fast for the game. I actually needed to slow down a little bit during the season.

"My balance wasn't as good because weight was a problem, and a lot of it was footwork. I know there are guys who are the same size as me who are going to knock me around. I learned how to stay balanced and keep my weight under me."

This type of play is what Michigan coaches were expecting when they signed McGary a year ago out of Chesterton, Ind. McGary -- who chose the Wolverines over schools like Florida, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina -- is part of a five-man recruiting class that also includes starters Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III along with key reserves Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert.

Twenty years after the Fab Five, someone dabbed this Wolverines class "The Fresh Five."

"I didn't come up with that," McGary chuckled.

Either way, the comparison certainly seems fair, as the Wolverines are one win away from accomplishing the same feat as Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard, who reached the 1993 NCAA title game.

Helping his team accomplish such a feat would be quite a résumé booster for McGary, whose success in recent weeks has caused his NBA draft stock to soar. In the last few days McGary has had to answer questions about the possibility of turning pro after the season.

"I don't have a decision to make," he told reporters. "I'm coming back."

It certainly seems like a mature decision by McGary, who was initially criticized for his decision to become a Wolverine. Naysayers said told him he'd never win at a high level at Michigan, which hadn't advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament since 1994.

While it certainly feels good to silence his doubters, McGary said he and his teammates still don't feel like they've arrived.

"We're just trying to stay humble and keep a good head on our shoulders," McGary said. "We're living in the moment.

"This is something I'll tell my grandkids about, something we may never get to experience again. We're not getting cocky or taking it for granted. We're enjoying it, because we know it could all be over in a flash, in the snap of a finger."