IT'S WHAT WASN'T SAID THAT STICKS WITH TRAVIS MCKIE. SITTING IN A SMALL ROOM BESIDE the basketball court at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in June, McKie and the 19 fellow college players who had tried out for the U-19 team listened intently as the names of the 13 who had made the squad were read aloud. He waited as the list was recited alphabetically—Keith Appling, James Bell ... Doug McDermott, Tony Mitchell. When McKie realized his name was not among the chosen ones, he congratulated those who made the cut and retreated to the hotel to pack for the long flight home to Virginia. "I remember it like it was yesterday," says the forward, his voice tinged with disappointment nearly three months later. "I just put that in the memory bank and use that as motivation."
One season into his collegiate career, McKie's memory bank is filling up quickly. The U-19 cut was a fitting end to a freshman year that was a mix of accomplishment and frustration. McKie was a breakout star—he had seven double doubles while becoming just the 10th freshman in ACC history to lead his team in both scoring and rebounding—but the success was tempered by his team's last-place finish in the ACC.
Though he'd been a four-star recruit out of Richmond's John Marshall High, where he averaged 21.8 points and 11.0 rebounds, McKie had not expected to start for a team that was coming off consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. He had to fight his nerves early in the year—he says he was shaking on the floor during his first scrimmage—but wound up scoring in double figures in each of the first six games, including a 22-point, 15-rebound performance against Elon. Yet his efforts were rarely enough to really help an inexperienced Demon Deacons team that struggled early before bottoming out.
McKie hopes the team will grow from the humbling experience, just as he has shown a tendency to do. Three years ago he was playing in a summer-league game in Richmond as a hotshot 16-year-old. He was matched up against then VMI swingman Reggie Williams, who had just finished his second straight season as the nation's leading scorer. Williams, 21, put on a clinic. His 50-point outburst left McKie aware of how intensely he'd have to dedicate himself to play D-I hoops. Ever since, McKie says, he worked "10 times harder to make sure that that never happened again."
The two players soon became friends. McKie trained with Williams (a guard who has played two seasons for the NBA's Warriors) in the off-season, working out twice a day. He also played multiple times a week against four-time NBA All-Star and Richmond resident Ben Wallace, absorbing firsthand knowledge of what it will take to make the next jump in his basketball career.
McKie beefed up over the summer, adding seven pounds to what is now a 212-pound frame, and he hopes to add three more pounds by mid-November. And like Williams (who averaged 9.2 points for Golden State last year), he has sought to bolster his perimeter game, bringing up the ball during summer-league games and doing yoga and agility drills to improve his lateral movement. McKie also put up 500 to 750 shots a day, six days a week in an effort to better last season's 30.4% performance from beyond the arc. "My shot is 10 times better than it was last year," he says. He hopes his memories will be too.