CAMDEN, N.J. — You couldn't wipe the smile off Tahjere McCall's face if you tried.
The former Tennessee State guard was one of six prospects at the Sixers' training facility Monday morning for a pre-draft workout as the team does its due diligence on a handful of players in advance of the NBA draft when it will have four chances to potentially find a second-round wonder. At just 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, McCall was lightly recruited out of Philadelphia's Carver High School before landing at Niagara and then eventually transferring to Tennessee State.
And although McCall's name is unlikely to be called June 22, he had a chance to show off for the team he grew up watching as a kid in North Philadelphia.
"I absolutely grew up a Sixers fan. Allen Iverson was here at the time I was growing up and you couldn't not be a Sixers fan," McCall said. "I didn't always play basketball. I was OK. I didn't play AAU, I didn't play [for my high school] until my 11th-grade year, 12th-grade year. I only had one scholarship offer, so just to be in a position now, it wasn't guaranteed. And to be in Philadelphia on my first workout, I can't write it up."
After two seasons and two different coaches in upstate New York, McCall made the move to Tennessee State, the same school that produced Robert Covington.
Playing for the Tigers, McCall flourished, earning Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in each of his final two seasons while also earning first-team All-OVC honors last year. He also finished second on the team in points at 14.3 per game and racked up close to three steals a night, good for sixth among all individuals in Division I basketball.
So when McCall found out that he would have the chance to put on a Sixers uniform — even if it was just a practice jersey — he was ecstatic.
"You should've seen my face when I got the text," McCall said. "It's a dream ... being home, getting to see the nice facilities and meet the coaches is just awesome."
With guys like Colorado's Derrick White, Maryland's Melo Trimble and Kentucky's Isaiah Briscoe all in the gym with McCall on Monday, the defensive stud was certainly not the most well-known of the group. Only about half of Tennessee State's games were even televised last season and in his four years of collegiate ball, McCall never got the chance to play in an NCAA Tournament game.
Nor was he the most well-rounded. Despite an excellent defensive pedigree, McCall took just 37 three-pointers last season, shooting 24.9 percent from distance and he averaged worst than 65 percent from the charity stripe.
But maybe the Sixers — the only team thus far to bring in McCall for a workout — see something in the local prospect similar to Covington, a defensive specialist in his own right who ultimately wound up going undrafted back in 2013.
"He brings toughness to the basketball court," Sixers vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said of McCall. "He plays in a stance, he's got great length, he brings a toughness to the court. ... I think he's got to work on his offense a little bit. He's got to develop his jump shot but again, I think he's a defender and that's his elite skill."
McCall says he models his game after Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard and Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, but also Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, whose collegiate stats at Old Dominion are quite similar to those of McCall. In four seasons, Bazemore shot better than 32.1 percent from beyond the arc just once, and it wasn't until his junior year that he averaged double-figure points per game.
Still, for a guy who isn't even ranked among DraftExpress' top 100 prospects in this year's draft class, making comparisons to a couple of NBA champions and some of the league's best defenders might be a stretch. In the meantime, however, McCall is just enjoying being back home with his family and his mom's cooking — most notably, her ribs and fried chicken.
If a chance to play pro basketball does come along in the next few months, though, expect McCall to jump at the chance to do just that.
"I've always had just one opportunity to make myself, so I'm used to having one opportunity and making the most out of it," McCall said. "I didn't expect this when I was playing high school. You just think, 'I'm playing for fun,' then it keeps getting gradually better and gradually better and now, I can hopefully help my parents and do something I love to do. It's just a dream."