Tahjere McCall

Philly area natives Tahjere McCall, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bond on Nets' summer league team

Philly area natives Tahjere McCall, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bond on Nets' summer league team

LAS VEGAS -- A distance of 23 miles is minimal in the grand scheme of the NBA.

So when North Philadelphia’s Tahjere McCall and Chester’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson met for the first time on the Nets' summer league squad, they clicked instantly.

“We like to see other kids from our area do good,” Hollis-Jefferson said.

Hollis-Jefferson and McCall, who attended high schools just 23 miles away, took very different paths to get to the same summer league squad.

Hollis-Jefferson became a McDonald’s All-American while at Chester High School. He declared for the NBA draft after two years of college ball at Arizona. He was selected 23rd overall in 2015 and is entering his third season in the league. Hollis-Jefferson already has played in 107 games for the Nets.  

McCall went to Carver High School of Engineering & Science in Philadelphia. He didn’t play high school basketball until his junior year and never played on the AAU circuit. McCall initially attended Niagara before transferring to Tennessee State, where he graduated this spring. The Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, McCall went undrafted in June and received a summer league invite from the Nets after making an impression during a pre-draft workout. He also worked out for the Sixers at one point before the draft.

Despite different their different paths, the two players bonded.

“He has the best personality, kind of reminds me of me,” Hollis-Jefferson said with a laugh. “It’s amazing to have that around you, that energy. I just gravitated to him and likewise. It was fun being out there, him dancing. It’s good to see people like that. Teams like when you have somebody that can bring up the energy.”

Hollis-Jefferson averaged 23.5 minutes for the Nets in the summer league. McCall, however, was sidelined because of injuries. He didn’t appear in the games, yet stayed positive over the two weeks.

“[I want to show I am a] good character kid,” McCall said, maintaining eye contact and keeping a smile throughout the entire interview. “Everybody out here is skilled and could do things, but I just want to be a good teammate and a good person.”

Hollis-Jefferson is under contract with the Nets this coming season. McCall will try to continue his basketball career at the next level. He knows he has a lot to prove, but he’s been in this situation before.

“You get it from being in Philly — wherever you go, you feel like you’re the best player and nobody can beat you,” McCall said. “But flying under the radar, that just let me be myself and let me move freely. I’m used to it so it doesn’t really bother me anymore.”

For Philly native Tahjere McCall, working out for Sixers 'a dream'

For Philly native Tahjere McCall, working out for Sixers 'a dream'

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."

Sixers' 1st pre-draft workouts include Philly native, plenty of guards

Sixers' 1st pre-draft workouts include Philly native, plenty of guards

Updated: June 4, 7:50 p.m.

The Sixers on Monday will hold their first pre-draft workout. 

Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe, George Washington forward Tyler Cavanaugh, Tennessee State guard Tahjere McCall, Weber State guard Jeremy Senglin, Maryland guard Melo Trimble and Colorado guard Derrick White will participate at the Sixers training complex in Camden, New Jersey.

The Sixers hold the third, 36th, 39th, 46th and 50th picks in the draft on June 22. These players would be projected for the second round. 

Isaiah Briscoe, sophomore, G, 6-3/218
Kentucky teammates De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk could be potential fits for the Sixers with the third pick; could Briscoe join them in the second? The versatile Newark, New Jersey, native ranks third in assists under head coach John Calipari, as well as top 10 in total rebounds, field goals, steals, points, assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio.

2016-17 average: 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists

Tyler Cavanaugh, senior, F, 6-9/238
Cavanaugh is the lone forward in this workout. The big man has an outside game, though. He shot 40.9 percent from three last season. Cavanaugh also ranked second on his team in total assists. He finished his college career at George Washington after playing the first two at Wake Forest. 

2016-17 average: 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists 

Tahjere McCall, senior, G, 6-5/195
McCall is a Philadelphia native and attended the Carver High School of Engineering & Science. In addition to his offensive numbers, McCall was named Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the year in 2016 and 2017. He transferred from Niagara after his sophomore season to Tennessee State, Robert Covington’s alma mater. 

2016-17 average: 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists

Reggie Upshaw, senior, F, 6-8/230
Upshaw was a standout tight end in high school, but chose Middle Tennessee State University to pursue basketball. Upshaw had a prolific career at MTSU, finishing fourth in points scored (career) and fourth in rebounds in school history. He also started the most games in MTSU history. The power forward increased his scoring in each of his four seasons with the Blue Raiders, while raising his shooting percentage over the last three seasons. 

2016-17 average: 14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists 

Melo Trimble, junior, G, 6-3/192
Trimble considered entering the draft and ultimately ended up playing three years at Maryland. Last season, he was named First Team All-Big Ten and AP Honorable Mention All-American. The former McDonald’s All-American scored in double-digits in 92 games during his time at Maryland. He had a memorable moment this season when he hit the game-winning three against Michigan State. 

2016-17 average: 16.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists

Derrick White, senior, G, 6-5/200
White is one of the players the Sixers already got to know at the Portsmouth Invitational. White was named to the All-Pac 12 Conference Team this past season. White has been making the climb toward the NBA after transferring to Colorado from the Division II University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He finished off strong, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three. 
2016-17 average: 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists