SE: McGruder Leads Skyforce to D-League Championship

Former Wildcat men’s basketball player Rodney McGruder has been making waves in the NBA D-League. 

His team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, an affiliate of the Miami Heat, defeated the Los Angeles D-Fenders on April 29, to clinch the D-League Championship and finish the 2015-16 season with a 40-10 record, the best mark in NBADL history. 

While he’s been a consistent force for Sioux Falls all year by averaging 15.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, McGruder saved one of his best performances of the season for when it mattered most – in the championship series. The former Wildcat star scored 30 points in the first of the three-game finals, leading his team to a 104-99 victory over Los Angeles on April 24. 

“It was fun,” said McGruder over the phone earlier this week, “but whenever I’m on the floor, I have fun whether I score 10 points or 30 points. The group of guys that I’m playing with right now, we’re all very competitive, we push each other, and my coach really has trust in me, so that all helps.” 

Though the Skyforce won the first game, they fell short in game two as the D-Fenders evened the series on April 26, with a 109-102 win. 

“I couldn’t sleep after we lost, I knew our next game was do or die,” said McGruder, who scored 15 points in the loss. “That was the first time we faced adversity in the playoffs. It was the first time we lost a game in the playoffs, so it was a wakeup call. We knew it was now or never. In the final game, we really came together and focused on what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to be the aggressor because, even though we won the first game, we weren’t the aggressor. We came out strong that third game and we never let up on them.” 

In the final game of the series, Sioux Falls dominated Los Angeles with a 91-63 victory, a game in which McGruder put away 12 more points as the Sioux Falls Skyforce won the first championship in program history. 

Since his time at K-State (2009-13), McGruder has spent the previous three years playing professionally. Following his stellar career with the Wildcats, he spent one season (2013-14) playing with Atomeromu SE of Hungary before returning to the U.S. for the 2014-15 season. He spent the summer of 2014 with the Golden State Warriors for the 2014 NBA Summer League and spent time with the Boston Celtics and the D-League’s Maine Red Claws before being acquired by Sioux Falls last spring. 

“It’s been a lot of fun. As a professional you get to play 24/7,” said McGruder. “You’re practicing when you’d usually be in class, so it’s been really different, but it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been to a lot of different places. I’ve played overseas and with the D-League twice. My overseas experience was great; it was cool to learning how a different culture lives. It made me more appreciative.” 

In his D-League career, McGruder has played in a total of 77 games with 51 starts, averaging 13.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 32.1 minutes per game. 

“My overall knowledge of the game has grown a lot,” he explained. “I think I’ve grown tremendously (as a basketball player) because I’ve been able to work on my craft continuously. In college, you’d have those times when you had to be in class or have to be doing other things, but as a pro, you can work on your craft whenever you like because it’s your job. I think that being in the gym more has really helped me a lot.” 

While McGruder continues to learn and grow since his time at K-State, he thinks back to his days playing in Bramlage Coliseum often. The knowledge he gained learning at K-State has helped him immensely during his professional career. 

“Playing at K-State helped prepare me for the professional level,” McGruder said. “Playing with one coach for three years then having to learn a new system my senior year, that helped me because when you become a pro, you don’t know where you’ll be or if you’ll be traded. You have to learn new systems quick and be open to different styles of coaching, so it really helped me out.” 

During his time at K-State, the 6-foot-5 guard led the Wildcats through an exciting 2012-13 Big 12 Championship season. As a senior in 2013, McGruder capped off his Wildcat career earning both All-America status and All-Big 12 First Team honors, and he left the program in the top 10 of 14 different career categories. He joined two-time All-American Bob Boozer as the only Wildcat to rank in the top 10 in career scoring (1,576 points, seventh) and in rebounding (654, seventh).

He made an impact from the start with the Wildcats as he played in 33 games as a freshman and helping the team reach the Elite Eight for the first time in more than two decades. 

“I would say one of my favorite memories was during my freshman year when we beat Texas and they were ranked No. 1,” said McGruder. “That’s always been one of my favorite memories because that’s when people really started giving us credit. We beat an undefeated team, and that’s when guys like Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente really took off. It was fun to see them grow. We went on to the Elite Eight, it was fun to be able to be a part of that because it hadn’t happened for K-State in a long time.” 

Though his season with Sioux Falls is over now, McGruder isn’t slowing down any time soon. 

“I’ll probably take a week off, but then get back at it because this is my job now,” he said. “You don’t get time off for vacation. You have to get right back to the grind.” 

His solid play with the Skyforce, capped with a stellar performance in the D-League Finals, this season has put McGruder on radar as a serious NBA prospect, a goal he has been working toward for the past three years. He cemented himself as one of the best guards in the D-League during the 2015-16 season and is ready to make a name for himself at the next level. 

But until then, it’s back to work. Back to perfecting his craft. 

And though McGruder has been away from his alma mater for nearly three years now, he’ll never forget his time in the Little Apple. 

“Please let the K-State fans know that I love them and I really appreciate all their support,” he said before hanging up the phone. “A lot of people were Tweeting about and talking about me during the (D-League Championship series), so I want to let them know I appreciate them and all of their continued support since I’ve been gone.”