Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
In this decade, there hasn’t been one team that has dominated the Metro Athletic Atlantic Conference more than the Iona Gaels, as they have won five conference championships since 2012, including the previous three and have made the NCAA Tournament five times. All of that is due to their tough, physical play and battle-tested mindset.
One of the keys to their success in these last couple of years has been Rickey McGill. The 6-foot-1 point guard is a player that looks to score when he’s in transition and when his team is in need of a bucket. He is also a defensive threat when on the court and aids in getting plenty of steals off of a hapless defender.
“We just come out and play our game, share the ball, and everybody gets an open shot. Just share the ball and run, that’s it,” he said.
He also added, “I’ve been playing basketball basically all my life, I’ve just been working [on my game] every chance I get, just to get better.”
McGill hails from Spring Valley, New York, which is located in Rockland County, which is less than 40 minutes away from the school. When asked about his hometown, he replied, “Spring Valley is not known like that, but I just try to give it a name, and it’s like just nothing, really, just a limited [amount of] people come out of Spring Valley, so I try to put the name on my back.”
At Spring Valley High School, McGill was a standout on the court, as he is the all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,463 points and was honored as the Section 1 Mr. Basketball Award winner in his senior season of high school, after leading the Tigers to a 23-2 record and an appearance in the Class A state semifinals.
He also had the pleasure of playing for someone who paved the way historically for African-Americans in college basketball. His head coach at Spring Valley was none other than Willie Worsley, who played on the 1966 Texas Western basketball team that was the first team to have an all-black starting five in its lineup in the national championship game against Kentucky, whom they beat, 72-65.
On playing for Worsley, McGill replied, “That was probably one of the best things I ever did. I knew him outside of basketball, too, so for him to give me words of wisdom, like for basketball, was a good thing.”
In the fall of 2014, as a high school senior, he committed to play at Iona. When asked why he committed to play for the Gaels, he replied, “The way they play. I feel like it fit my style, getting up and down and playing defense and that was basically the perfect fit.”
As a freshman, playing behind seniors such as A.J. English and Sean Armand, McGill waited his turn and learned plenty, as he averaged 2.8 points per game. The following season, as a sophomore, he stepped up his performance by averaging 10.5 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. Then as a junior last season, he averaged 13.4 points, 5.6 assists and four rebounds per game.
Throughout those three years, the Gaels reigned supreme in the MAAC, winning the conference title every season and making three straight appearances to the NCAA Tournament. When asked about being a part of a successful program in that span, he replied, “Oh, man, that’s the best feeling, going into the NCAA Tournament three times in a row, that’s one of the best feelings in the world. I always dreamed about playing in the NCAA Tournament.”
This season started out rough for the Gaels as they went 2-9 during the non-conference portion of the season. But now, Iona is 14-15 on the season, 11-6 in conference play, all with only eight scholarship players on their roster. McGill has been one of the team’s biggest leaders, as he is the second-leading scorer with 15.6 points, 5.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
When asked about the turnaround, he replied, “Just jelling, like everybody was a little bit like, ‘We can’t trust anybody right now,’ but as the season went on, we started to come along and jell together.”
Asked if he felt if the Gaels could make another run at the NCAA Tournament and repeat as MAAC champions for the fourth year in a row, he replied, “I mean, that’s – you got to take it day by day. I can’t answer that right now, but I take it day by day and I just keep getting better.”
Last weekend, in their Senior Day matchup against Canisius, McGill put on a show in his final home game, as he put up 30 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the Gaels’ 87-80 victory. Towards the end of the game, the fans in the stands were cheering, “Rickey! Rickey! Rickey!”
This May, he will graduating with a degree in Mass Communications and will possibly be going on to play overseas. But first things first, there’s some unfinished business for him to take care of before he puts on that cap and gown. There’s one last run.
When asked what he’ll miss about playing at Iona, he replied, “Just playing with my squad, just going hard every day, just playing basketball.”