The first time he saw him play, Kansas coach Bill Self saw something he liked in freshman forward David McCormack.
But that was more than 60 pounds ago, when McCormack, the 6-foot-10, 265-pound forward from Oak Hill Academy, weighed well over 300 pounds and used his massive body to bully opponents near the basket.
With that kind of size and strength, and an attitude that screamed competitor, Self gladly made room for McCormack on his roster.
“I don’t know that we’ve had anybody like Dave,” Self told the Journal-World when assessing the strengths of his young big man. “You could say maybe (junior center) Udoka (Azubuike), but he’s not as explosive as Udoka but he’s a little bit more skilled than Udoka at the same stage.”
In the weeks and months since committing to KU, McCormack has delivered the kind of effort and improvement that make it easy for anyone to see him carving out an immediate role on a deep and talented Kansas team ranked by most pundits as the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the nation heading into the 2018-19 season.
His summer scrimmages featured non-stop energy and effort and teammates and coaches said he brought that same approach to the weight room and conditioning drills.
Part of the reason for his all-out assault is McCormack’s pride and confidence in his newer, trimmer body.
“It would be hard to have a motor like he’s got now if he was carrying 60 more pounds,” Self conceded.
But the other part of the equation comes from McCormack’s mentality.
“That’s me. That’s just who I am,” McCormack told the Journal-World this summer. “I mean, my motto is not to get outworked. I may not be the most talented or the most skilled, but I can assure you at all times I’m definitely going to be the hard worker who does the nitty gritty work.”
Players who match the last part of that description certainly have come through the Kansas program throughout the years. And McCormack already has drawn comparisons to a couple of them, with KU’s coaches, Self included, bringing up names like Thomas Robinson and Darnell Jackson when talking about McCormack’s game and skill set.
“Thomas was a much better basketball player, in terms of shooting and scoring, when he left (after his junior season),” Self said. “But there’s probably some very comparable similarities. Thomas had more of a chance to play away from the basket, but I do think that David’s bigger and goes after the ball every bit as much as Thomas did.
“He’s very mature. He’s obviously very bright. But I don’t think we’ve had anybody that possesses that size that is that hungry for the ball.”
Self’s appreciation for McCormack goes well beyond what he can do on the court, in the paint or against KU’s opponents in the months ahead.
That was another McCormack trait that jumped out at Self and his staff during the recruiting process, and, like all the others, the big man’s maturity and willingness to give himself up for the good of the team, sent the Top 40 player soaring up KU’s recruiting board.
“We knew when we were recruiting him that he was a guy who could obviously make you better but also change the culture and change the efforts in practice, too,” Self said. “And he’s been very good at that.”
Added Self, ahead of Late Night, when asked about the 2018-19 team’s leadership that had emerged during the first few weeks of practice: “I think Udoka’s the one that can certainly do a lot more than what he’s done and he is coming out of his shell from a quiet standpoint. He’s been vocal, he’s been good, he’s been a good leader. I give Udoka a lot of credit for that. I give Dedric (Lawson) some credit. But I think David McCormack deserves as much credit as anybody. He’s made everybody get out of their comfort zone because he tries so hard. You talk about a leader. David, in his own way, has been a terrific leader because he’s made those other guys better.”