James McLean

As the Crimson prepares to take on Stanford in its season opener, David Freed recaps the last season for each of the players on this year’s team and discusses the important season goals for each student-athlete. In this article, he discusses the recent progression and the relevant next steps for freshman point guard James McLean.

James McLean
Sophomore James McLean has a steep climb upwards if he wishes to see any playing time this season.

2015-2016 Recap:

Like fellow sophomore Robbie Feinberg, McLean operated mostly in cleanup duty as a freshman. Both he and Feinberg were only subbed in twice all season—to close games against Bryant and Ryerson, nonconference contests that the Crimson won by a combined 41 points.

As a point guard, McLean’s playing time situation was slightly more complicated than Feinberg’s, however. Both were stuck behind classmates who started nearly every game (Tommy McCarthy at the one and Corey Johnson at the two) but McLean’s path was cleared out by ACL injuries to Chambers, the presumptive starter, and backup junior Matt Fraschilla.

McLean’s struggles to get onto the floor, while not encouraging, were in some ways unsurprising. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker puts a high priority on perimeter defense, a core part of the program’s identity, and is reluctant to play freshmen at the position. McCarthy was elevated to a starting role more out of need than anything else, and even he sat long stretches behind junior Corbin Miller, an inferior playmaker but steadier defender.

Important Next Steps:

Facing a bottleneck at the point (see below), McLean can look to Fraschilla and Alex Nesbitt ’15 as inspiration for his future role on the team.

1.Learn The Offense — Both players were offensively limited (read: unable to take defenders off the dribble or shoot from deep) but managed to garner significant playing time in Amaker’s offense by cutting their turnovers almost to nil. McLean’s cleanest path to playing time is to emulate this approach, learning how to operate in the Amaker offense without ever giving the ball away

2.Improve Defensive Footwork — Harvard coach Tommy Amaker expressed his frustration with the team’s defensive performance in the offseason, noting that with an all-freshman backcourt it was hard for the team to contain opposing perimeter threats like Princeton’s Steven Cook and Yale’s Makai Mason. With the exception of Chambers, most of the point guards ahead of McLean are mediocre defensively and his continued improvement on that end will be crucial in his efforts to get more playing time.

2016-2017 Outlook:

Despite being the recruited athlete of the two, McLean faces a steeper path to playing time than Feinberg. The point guard situation in Cambridge next year will be very crowded, with Chambers, McCarthy, Fraschilla, and Miller all returning ahead of McLean in the pecking order. Four-star recruit Bryce Aiken presumably will come in already ahead, while two-star recruit Christian Juzang should have plenty of chances to prove himself in preseason practices.

Amongst the logjam, McLean realistically has a slim chance of ever starting for the Crimson. While three of the aforementioned players will graduate next year, McCarthy, Aiken, and Juzang aren’t going anywhere. To earn backup minutes, McLean will have to likely outperform two or more three-star recruits moving forward. This season should thus be an excellent one for McLean to learn and develop as he builds towards becoming a steady hand at the point.

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