Exactly one year after being named Maine’s Mr. Basketball, former Hampden Academy star Christian McCue was busy trying to help his new team win a national championship.
But while McCue and his McGill University teammates did not claim the ultimate prize during the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship tournament held at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, the Redmen nevertheless had a breakthrough season.
McGill, which is in Montreal, finished with a 23-11 overall record, including a 22-9 finish against top-tier Canadian competition to go with exhibition losses to Nevada-Las Vegas and Northeastern, and a preseason victory over American International College.
The 23 wins were McGill’s second-highest single-season victory total in school history, falling five victories shy of the 1976-77 Redmen squad that finished 28-5.
McCue, a 6-foot-2-inch freshman guard, was named to the Reseau du Sport Etudiant du Quebec all-rookie team after a regular season during which he averaged 5.9 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game for coach David DeAveiro’s club.
“It was definitely a roller coaster; there were a lot of ups and downs,” said McCue, who rooms with older brother Daniel, now an assistant coach at McGill after completing his playing career at MIT in 2012 by helping the Engineers reach the NCAA Division III Final Four.
“I started off strong and had a couple of 20-point games, but I think I hit the freshman wall and that’s when some injuries started. I think the college season definitely took its toll.”
McCue’s was one of the team’s leading scorers early in a season that stretched for eight months — McGill’s first game against Northeastern was last Aug. 19, and its final game at the nationals was March 10.
He was named most valuable player of the RBC-Brock Classic tournament in late October at St. Catherines, Ontario, scoring 56 points in three games with eight rebounds, six assists and six steals.
“McCue has been a pleasant surprise for us, and despite being grabbed and held, he found a way to be effective,” said DeAveiro after McGill won the tournament and moved up to third place in the national rankings. “He’s learning how to play without the ball, which is a big change for him because he was a point guard in high school and probably had the ball 85 percent of the time.”
McCue started in about 20 games, but as the season reached its midpoint, he suffered a sprained hand and soon after had some back issues that limited his playing time during the later stages of the winter.
“Christian was kind of an unknown recruit coming from outside the province,” said Daniel McCue, a 2007 Hampden Academy graduate who is coaching while studying in a French-language immersion program with the goal of attending McGill’s law school beginning in the fall of 2014
“But he adjusted well right away, not only to the [international] rules but to the speed and strength of the game and being 19 years old playing in a conference where the average age of the players is probably 23 or 24.”
McGill went on to win its first RSEQ provincial championship since 1986 and earn its first trip to the eight-team Canadian national tournament in 33 years.
The sixth-seeded Redmen dropped their first game at the nationals to third-ranked Ottawa 82-70 but rebounded through the consolation rounds to defeat second-seeded Cape Breton 86-84 in overtime and No. 8 Victoria 80-68.
Not only did that secure McGill fifth place in the tournament, it marked the first time in school history the Redmen had won twice at the nationals as the program improved to 3-7 in four overall appearances.
McCue, who currently is undergoing therapy on his back, plans to return home after classes conclude in late April and will play in a summer league with Daniel and oldest brother Jesse as well as take part in frequent shootarounds with his father, Carl, at Reeds Brook Middle School.
“I’ll be doing a lot of strength and conditioning work during the summer, and then during [next] season I’ll do a lot of exercises to maintain it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to next year. I’ve got a lot to work on this summer, but I really like it up there and I like my teammates.”
Just two players are graduating from this year’s McGill roster, leaving McCue and the rest of the returning Redmen optimistic about a possible return to the nationals next March.
“People now know that we’re going to be in the mix in terms of [high-level] basketball in this country,” said DeAveiro.