EVANSVILLE, Ind -- Nicholas Kay’s path was headed directly toward the basket. Clear the way.
Starting at the top of the key, the Metro State forward from Australia dribbled, burst straight ahead and slammed home a powerful dunk above a couple of Tuskegee defenders. It was a highlight play in top-ranked Metro State’s 106-87 victory Wednesday against Tuskegee.
And that’s the thing about the Roadrunners, who have lost just one game this season and came within one basket of winning the national championship in 2013. They are smart. And they have the grades to prove it.
Mitch McCarron, a junior guard from Brisbane, Australia, won an NCAA Elite 89 Award this week because he has a 3.87 grade-point average. Kay, a junior from Tamworth, Australia, has a 3.86 GPA and he won the same academic achievement award last year.
“It means a lot,” McCarron said. “I think back in high school I didn’t really get the grades that I should have just because of time restrictions, so many time commitments with different [basketball] teams.”
“It was really important,” Kay said of his 2013 Elite 89. “Not just for me, but my family. My parents always wanted me to do well in school.”
The NCAA Elite 89 Award is given out at each of the NCAA’s 89 championship events to the student-athlete in the competition with the highest GPA.
In DII basketball, McCarron and Kay are the first Australians to win the award.
But that should come as no surprise. As competitive as they are on the basketball court for Metro State, a commuter school in Denver, they are the same way in the classroom.
“Every class is a competition,” Kay, who majors in biology and has a minor in chemistry, said. “Who’s going to get a better grade? Who can get the A and stuff?”
“Those guys have handled themselves in a first class way in the classroom,” Metro State coach Derrick Clark said.
McCarron was the second player in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference history to win the league’s academic player of the year two consecutive years. McCarron and Kay are Capital One Academic All-Americans.
Both hope to play basketball professionally once they graduate from Metro State. After that, Kay hopes to enter chiropractic medicine. McCarron, whose major is sports industry operations, hopes to become a coach or perhaps enter the business side of a sports franchise.
McCarron and Kay are two of five Australians on the team, which is why it is common to hear the word “mate” used frequently around Metro State. The bond among teammates is unbreakable.
“I think the biggest thing with Australians is, and it’s cultural thing, is loyalty,” Clark said. “They’re very loyal. Once they’re in, they’re in your camp. They don’t break away. They call it mate-shift. The definition of mate-shift is you’re my buddy, you’re my guy. And I’m going to do whatever I need to do to help you out. It really is a strong bond.”
“I always take it back to when we go to war as a country, who do you want in the trench next to you?” McCarron said. “You want to look out for your mate, your best guy, and rely on everybody else around you. I think loyalty is definitely a huge part of our culture.”
And that’s why, Kay said, in a game involving Australians, if an opponent knocks down a player or delivers a cheap hit, there’ll be three other Australian teammates in the play immediately to help out their fallen mate.
“I think just playing for each other, playing hard for each other, is a big part of it,” Kay said. “We want to do it and we want to do it for a teammate.”
While Metro State’s team also includes DII player of the year Brandon Jefferson, Kay and McCarron are likely to play important roles in the Roadrunners’ chase after a national championship in the same building where they won a national title in 2002. Metro State will face Central Missouri in the semifinals Friday night. Kay had a game-high 10 rebounds in the win against Tuskegee and McCarron had a game-high seven assists.
Among those assists were a behind-the-back pass to Aussie teammate Harrison Goodrick for a slam-dunk in the second half.
“I think Mitch is one of the most versatile guards n the country,” Clark said. “If you look at the stat line, he’s in the top 10 in seven or eight categories in our conference. One of the best rebounding guards you’ll ever see.”