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TOURNAMENT

McCain Bass Is the Voice of Matadors

When senior guard speaks, everyone at Northridge listens to this defensive specialist, even Braswell's wife.

March 14, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first thing you notice is the voice.

Soothing and stentorian, it pours from the lips of Marco McCain, sounding more apropos for a Barry White lyric than a discussion on Cal State Northridge basketball.

A senior guard at Northridge, McCain has spoken with a rich bass since he was 7. In grade school, classmates' parents would hang up on him, wondering why this man was calling to speak to their child.

It made him shy enough in high school to whisper, not talk, and embarrassed enough to dread getting up in front of class for oral reports.

The voice has been with McCain all these years, a part of his often trying childhood, an accomplice in his nondescript high school basketball career at Long Beach Jordan, and a partner that will boom out two words, "Thank you," in December when he becomes the first person in his family to receive a college degree.

McCain smiles. He and his voice have been through a lot.

*

McCain is nothing less than a team player, the kind Coach Bobby Braswell loves to have on his side.

The 6-foot-3 McCain has more fun fighting through picks and badgering opponents than he does shooting and scoring.

As Northridge (22-9) prepares for its first trip to the NCAA tournament, McCain knows he won't score 30 points or hand out 10 assists. McCain, who averages 8.4 points, is expected to play tight, hand-in-your-face defense Friday against Kansas (24-6) in a Midwest Regional opener at Dayton, Ohio.

He doesn't mind.

"That's my whole attitude on basketball," McCain said. "I don't care who it is, even if it's Michael Jordan, I've got to think I can shut him down."

The fact McCain is playing in the NCAA tournament is somewhat surprising, considering his unremarkable high school career.

He averaged only eight minutes a game his senior season at Jordan, serving as a captain but contributing little statistically as the Panthers won the Southern Section Division I-AA championship in 1996.

McCain didn't get any home visits from NCAA coaches. Nor did he receive recruiting letters in the mail.

So he started anew at Cerritos College and played sparingly as a freshman after redshirting.

He blossomed as a sophomore, averaging 14.5 points and leading Cerritos to the state championship. In the title game, McCain scored 26 points, including six three-point baskets.

He heard from Northridge shortly thereafter. The Matadors' hook: Braswell promised McCain he would earn a degree.

It was a deal-clincher for McCain, who grew up in a single-parent home and looked after his younger brother, Brandon, while his mother, Felicia, worked.

"I had to make sure he brushed his teeth, took a shower in the morning, fixed his food and took his books to school," McCain said. "I basically raised him."

McCain remembers scurrying from Jordan to his brother's grade school, picking him up after class and racing back in time for basketball practice. His brother, then 9, would stay for the duration of practice before the two headed home.

"At first, it used to bother me doing it," McCain said. "I was always a few minutes late for practice. But then I sat down with my coach and talked to him about it and he was all right with it."

At Northridge, McCain's ambition to win, to get the best of the opponent, makes him ill-tempered at times.

In a game at Eastern Washington, McCain scored and was fouled, but was whistled for a technical because he taunted the player who hacked him.

After the Eagles shot the technical, McCain shot a free throw to cap a three-point play. Then he got into a brief shoving match with the player.

Northridge coaches saw it. They yanked McCain.

"I have to get on him in certain situations," Braswell said. "But it's for the right reasons. He wants the people around him to be accountable.

"He wants to win so bad. He's got the heart of a lion."

In January, McCain drew a one-game suspension from Braswell for academic reasons and did not travel with the team to Northern Arizona. The Matadors lost to the Lumberjacks, 76-75, on a late three-pointer by guard Adam Lopez.

"It was my fault," said McCain, who was forced to sit out practice for a week.

"I was upset with myself and my decision-making. I had time to sit and think about my mistakes."

Like Northridge, McCain has had few slip-ups since.

The Matadors have won 13 of 15 games, McCain pitching in with defense, desire, an occasional offensive outburst and solid play in backing up Markus Carr at point guard. He scored 16 points against Weber State on Friday in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament.

McCain has only gotten in trouble with Braswell for one reason--his voice.

"My wife says hi to him so she can hear him say hello back," Braswell said, smiling. "I'm like, 'Hey, Marco--you better watch yourself.' "

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