By Marc Raimondi
Basketball hasn’t been in his life for very long, but Giovanni McLean has a plan for the sport. He knows it’s his ticket to a higher level of education.
“I am trying to get money out of this sport, but my main focus is getting a college degree,” he said.
McLean just completed his senior year at Bronx Regional High School, an alternative high school in the PSAL after starting out at Jamaica High School. He is looking into a prep school for next year to help get his grades up in order to play college basketball. First, he has to take some summer courses to officially get his high school diploma.
But make no mistake: He’s bent on Division I basketball. Schools like Central Florida have already shown some interest and if he can keep his academics in order, he’s a shoo-in.
Need proof? McLean, 19, is one of the best young players on the New York City streetball circuit, playing against men more than a decade older than him. Last Wednesday night at Dyckman, he had 15 points in his BSC All-Stars’ 74-70 loss to the Harlem Ballers.
“He has an extremely high ceiling,” said Isaiah Brown, the Dyckman Youth Enterprises programs supervisor. “That’s why I think out of the many guys that we have playing in our tournament, he has the most upside at the guard position. He’s only 19 years old and he’s already establishing himself amongst the men. He can play basketball.”
His offensive game is electric, with nifty ball handling and consistent spot-up shooting. His relentless hustle earned him the nickname “Batteries Not Included.” But his best attribute is his upside.
McLean has been a soccer player all his life and just started playing basketball when he was 15. When his father, Wayne, a soccer aficionado, died, McLean started hanging out more with his older cousin, Maya Lawrence, who frequently took him to the park to play ball. McLean said it took him about a year to adjust to the game.
“It was a learning process for me,” he said. “Meeting the right people turned me into an offensive machine.”
Among those “right people,” he counts Brown. McLean started participating in Dyckman’s youth program right after his father’s death. He also learned how to play the game at the Boys Club of New York/Abbe Road in Flushing when he was a student at Jamaica HS. He spent his first two years there — his mother lived in nearby Far Rockaway — before moving back to his native Bronx as a junior.
This past winter at Bronx Regional, McLean was dominant. The 5-foot-10 guard averaged 21.8 points and 5.6 assists per game. His shooting touch was also on full display. He made 25 three-pointers in eight regular-season games and shot an incredible 31-of-33 from the free-throw line.
“Gio is an extremely hardworking kid, knows how to take criticism positively and wants to get better — like he really wants to get better,” Brown said. “Not like most of the kids nowadays that say they want to get better, but don’t want to put the work in to get better.”
McLean’s next step is probably prep school. And he’ll need that hard work to earn a college scholarship. But that is certainly the goal — for the education, not the level of basketball.
“That’s what we’ve groomed him to think, because before you get to the pros, there’s other things you have to do in your life,” Brown said. “And just because you get into the pros, you might not stay there or there might be other obstacles in your way. But you know that you’re always going to have that college education. That’s what we preach throughout the whole organization. Guys have to think about college first and then professional basketball.”
McLean is certainly using the game as an advantage and an outlet.
“I’m just trying to make something good of my life,” he said, “and stay away from the streets.”