The boy in his fathers arms.
There are times when Irmo High boys basketball coach Tim Whipple forgets that boy. At those times, the little boy is the knucklehead careening recklessly down the lane without waiting for his screen.
Its just been a very unique situation, Whipple said, watching a player grow up from the time he was born.
Time flies, is the moral in Whipples words.
Justin McKie, that little boy, signed with USC on Tuesday in front of several hundred classmates in the Irmo High gym.
Whipple stood to the side as BJ McKie, perhaps the greatest Yellow Jackets player of all, kissed the top of his sons head. Whipple coached BJ as well, back in the early 1990s. He followed BJs career at USC and saw the infant Justin cradled in BJs arms whenever he came to visit his former coach.
Then in the blink of an eye, there Justin was, on Whipples bench. Running sprints in the gym. Winning games for the Yellow Jackets, just like his father.
Signing with the Gamecocks, just like his father.
I can remember, Whipple said. Justin whenever BJ was around just always holding him and hugging him and still, when I think of Justin, I think of this little boy.
And then of course, I look at him now and hes not a little boy anymore.
Yep. Time flies.
His fathers son
Time flies, but it also can cast long shadows.
There are no shadows in the USC basketball program longer than the one cast by BJ McKie.
Fired in Whipples forge, then honed under the hammer of Eddie Fogler, the elder McKie sliced through USCs opponents, then eventually, its record book.
During his senior season, McKie climbed past Jimmy Foster, John Roche and the legendary Alex English and emerged beyond the 2,000-point plateau, where he remains the only Gamecock to fly so high.
Into this shadow Justin was born. Early on, BJ steered the boy toward other sports.
I wanted Justin to try some new things, he said. Football, maybe a little bit of baseball, just to try things.
But Justin was his fathers son.
It was basketball, always basketball.
I guess he was just born to play, BJ said. He was always around it, ever since I was at USC. Justin has USC in his blood and in his heart.
But having Garnet in your veins meant having BJ in your soul. As Justin grew, as his own unique skills evolved, there did come a time when the shadow became too much.
He had a poster of me on his wall, BJ said. But he took it down. True story. He had me up and then we got in a big argument and he took all my stuff down.
I understood that, BJ added. Its all about getting his own identity.
At Irmo, that identity became clear to Whipple.
Where BJ was strong and bent opponents to his will, Justin used finesse. Where BJ bullied, Justin slashed.
Indeed, Justin was not his fathers son on the court.
But he was between the ears. Everything Whipple preached was something Justin had long before been indoctrinated in by his father.
Ive watched Justin grow up since he was born, so the relationship BJ and I have make my relationship with Justin so much easier, Whipple said. What you get in that situation is you know where someone is coming from. There is none of this not understanding where youre coming from. Ever.
His fathers footsteps
Time flies, but each of those moments is every bit as important as the next.
Tick, a child is born.
Tock, that child is a man.
What happens between the tick and the tock can be everything and the moment can be so fleeting it brushes past like a stranger on a crowded sidewalk.
For those who are aware of these moments, time can be transcended.
With the aid of his father, his extended family and Whipple, Justin endures.
Today, BJ has no worries about his son. Justin will not walk in BJs footsteps.
Hell be walking alongside them.
Justin might have followed in my footsteps, but Justin is going to pave his own way for his own path, BJ said.
Theres no telling what Justin might be able to do, Whipple said.
Ask Justin that question and his answer comes from somewhere beyond his years.
I dont really feel any pressure, Justin said. One thing my dad has always told me is the only pressure you should worry about is the pressure you put on yourself. I dont put much pressure on myself to be like him or be him.
I know he and I are two completely different people and we are two completely different players, Justin continued. I think both of the ways we play of course the way he played got the job done but the way I play can get the job done, too. I know I work hard, so Im not putting any pressure on myself.
Being BJ McKies son has prepared Justin for the inevitable comparison to come.
I know other people are going to say, he has to do this, he has to do that, like his father, Justin said. But like I said, ultimately, the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself, and I dont do much of that.
Frank Martin picked up on this not long after arriving at USC. When others told him Justins game was mid-major, Martin would not hear of it, for the only evaluation that matters to him is his own.
Justins just my kind of guy, Martin said. When you go recruit, there are some guys that are highly touted and you start watching them and, the more you watch them, the more you start to dislike them.
Justin was the other way, Martin continued. I heard all these things Well, he aint good enough and This school is recruiting him, that school is recruiting him blah, blah, blah thats fine. I dont pay attention to none of that garbage.
Martin saw Justin for the first time in April during a tournament in Augusta.
By summers end, he had seen enough.
The more I watched that kid, the more I said hes my kind of guy, Martin said. Hes my kind of guy. Thats what he is.
His fathers successor
Time flies, but if there is consistency, the grand design unfolds to reveal its innate symmetry.
The great thing about Martin, in Justins mind, is that his demeanor is that of Whipples.
The great thing about Martin, in BJs mind, is that his demeanor is that of Foglers as well.
Between Whipple and BJ, there is the rest of the McKie clan, all of whom ride Justin just as hard as anything Martin could throw at him.
I love it. I love it because one thing about me is I come from a home where if youre not doing what youre supposed to do, theyre gonna get into you. My dad, my granddads, my mom if youre not doing what youre supposed to do, theyre going to get into you.
From a basketball standpoint, my coach right now is the same exact way, Justin continued. So you get the job done. And if youre not getting the job done? Theyre going to light a fire under you.
So, Justin, as his father before him, has been forged and honed by the finest, ready to be wielded by Martin.
The great thing about fathers and sons is that there comes a time when the son ceases the pursuit of his father in favor of blazing his own trail. It is in that succession true joy and true pride swell in both.
A son can honor his father by being his own man.
Hes a great kid and has a good personality and people will start to see Justin for Justin and not just BJ McKies son, BJ said.
And a son can call his father his hero even as he walks another path.
My dad is my idol, Justin said. He is everything I can hope to be as a man and as a basketball player. Hes my hero and hes my idol and thats point blank.
In time, thats all that matters.