Hard Work Pays Off for Mike McGuirl

By Danny Atkinson 

When you watch East Catholic basketball star and Ellington native Mike McGuirl compete, his game can sometimes look effortless. McGuirl’s scoring ability, athleticism and strength allow him to regularly confuse and overpower opposing players on both offense and defense. Ultimately, these skills have allowed McGuirl to become one of the best players in Connecticut and earn a scholarship to play at Kansas State. For McGuirl, however, reaching this level has required a tremendous amount of hard work.  It has been a challenging but rewarding journey.

While McGuirl is highly skilled in many areas, his beautiful jump shot and scoring range immediately stand out. McGuirl can score from anywhere on the perimeter as well as mid-range using his pull-up jumper, and can drive and finish in traffic and at the rim.

“The elevation on my jump shot and ability to shoot quickly allows me to score anywhere on the floor,” McGuirl said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better at scoring inside. I’m able to drive the ball to the hoop and find holes, allowing me to make plays both for myself and my teammates.”

McGuirl has fine-tuned his jump shot throughout his high school career with the help of East Catholic head coach Luke Reilly and others.

“I’ve constantly worked on improving the elevation of my shot and making it more fluent. I used to shoot from around my waist, but now I make sure to elevate shots over my head,” McGuirl said. “In practice and games, I try to take the same shot every time.”

Reilly praised McGuirl’s athleticism and scoring ability.

“Mike is very dynamic on offense and moves extremely well. He can finish above the rim and shoot out to 30 feet equally well,” Reilly said. “He is elevating his shot a lot more than in the past and always fine-tuning it.”

McGuirl had an exceptional junior season that earned him a spot on the All-State Team. Tat 6-foot-3, he averaged 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists and blocks per game. McGuirl led East Catholic to the Class L title, which was the program’s second in three seasons (they won the Class M title two years earlier).

McGuirl anchored the Eagles championship run despite suffering multiple facial fractures in January 2016, requiring him to wear a protective mask when he returned at the end of the month. In the state tournament, McGuirl averaged just under 20 points from the quarterfinals on and scored a team-high 16 in the championship game victory over Middletown.

“That team was special because of the personalities we had,” McGuirl said. “Everyone embraced their roles and enjoyed the tournament as a group.”

From the moment last season ended, McGuirl began his offseason workout regimen, which he maintained throughout the summer during the AAU season. McGuirl worked on his jump shot, handle and defense in addition to doing cross-training and weightlifting. He said that his strength and speed improved significantly.

“I knew that I wanted to improve my ball-handling and get stronger and faster, in addition to developing a more fluid jumper,” McGuirl said. “I had a detailed workout plan to follow and always stuck to it, and the results were successful.”

McGuirl’s prowess as a defender has improved greatly the past couple of years.

“My biggest defensive strength is being able to move my feet quickly and to always keep players in front of me,” McGuirl said. “My discipline and effort on defense has become much better over time.”

“Mike can cover a lot of space on defense in a short amount of time, and he’s strong enough to match up with anyone,” Reilly said. “He’s also excellent at playing help defense. Mike’s put a lot of work into improving as a defender and it’s clicked.”

McGuirl has taken on a primary leadership role with this year’s squad as the Eagles only senior. It is a role he has enjoyed immensely.

“Coach Reilly has emphasized the importance of being a leader for this year’s group,” McGuirl said. “Through my work ethic in practice and by teaching them skills, I’ve acted as a role model and big brother for the younger players. I love doing so. These guys are very fun to play with and it’s been great seeing their constant improvement.”

Reilly praised McGuirl’s leadership ability.

“Mike’s work ethic rubs off on everybody else and epitomizes what our program stands for,” Reilly said. “Teammates see him always working hard and want to do the same. His positive attitude is very refreshing for the younger guys.”

McGuirl is extremely close with Reilly and said the coach was highly responsible for his development into a great player. McGuirl said Reilly’s most important lessons concerned how to handle adversity.

“Coach Reilly has been there for me no matter what and helped me through tough times,” McGuirl said. “He has helped me grow as a person and a player and I love playing for him. There’s no way I’d be going on to Kansas State without him.”

“At East Catholic, we believe the struggle is where you grow the most as a person and player,” Reilly said. “Mike has always embraced that message and it’s allowed him to reach an elite level. Mike is extremely coachable and a great young man. He’s a Division I person as well as player.”

McGuirl was recruited heavily as a junior and his stock rose even more after a great AAU season for Connecticut Basketball Club (11.1 points per game, 44.6% shooting from three). McGuirl was eventually recruited by over 20 Division I programs. He committed to Kansas State, a member of the Big 12, in early September.

“Kansas State has a lot of resources to offer, and head coach Bruce Weber embraced my family and I,” McGuirl said. “He and the staff immediately made it clear they wanted me to play for the team. I can’t wait to join the program.”

“I definitely believe Mike can succeed at Kansas State,” Reilly said. “He has a lot of growing to do, but the necessary work ethic and skills are there.”

McGuirl is having an outstanding senior season and has led East Catholic to a 7-1 record as of January 16th. His signature performance came against Hamden on December 27th in an 89-87 win. He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer. McGuirl is focused on continuing to improve, and is determined to lead East Catholic on another championship run.

“I still am working to improve on defense and running offensive sets. I want to be more of a leader my team can rely on,” McGuirl said. “I definitely think we can contend for a state title. We just must focus on getting better every day and having each guy contribute.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *