Harvard degree is bonus plan for LCC basketball player

Tommy McCarthy admits he isn’t quite ready to dish out the hot stock tips just yet.

“I really haven’t studied it that much yet, so I’m probably not the right guy to give that kind of advice right now,” the Harvard-bound former La Costa Canyon basketball standout said.

McCarthy plans to major in economics and hopes to someday work on Wall Street.

“Call me in four years.”

That could be too late. Considering the trajectory of his basketball career, all indications are that McCarthy’s own stock could soar well before then.

And if shares of McCarthy futures go public anytime soon, count LCC coach David Cassaw as a buyer.

McCarthy’s combination of athleticism, smarts, skill and leadership, along with a propensity for making big shots, are among the qualities that Cassaw believes project a bullish outlook for his former star player.

Those qualities served McCarthy well at LCC, where he helped lead the Mavericks to the San Diego Section’s elite Open Division championship last season as a junior. He was named the Avocado League West MVP and a first-team Open Division selection as a senior earlier this year, after leading the team averaging 19.6 points and 4.4 assists.

He’s shown a flair for the dramatic, too. McCarthy sent LCC fans into a tizzy with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that was the difference in a 54-52 nonleague game against Torrey Pines. The shot, which McCarthy considers to be among the highlights of his career, solidified his reputation as a clutch performer. (See the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN932Qqijfc.)

“Throughout his career, I can think of a number of times when there was a game on the line, and I was just glad Tommy was on my side and ready to take that last shot or get our team in position to take that last shot,” Cassaw said.

“I knew we’d have a great opportunity because I knew he’d do something that would get us into a position to win the game, whether it was making the shot or making a play to get us there, and he did that a number of times.”

Cassaw believes McCarthy has a chance to make an impact at the collegiate level, and perhaps eventually join the professional ranks.

“All I can go by is my gut feeling, and that would be yes, but it’s a tough road for everybody,” he said.

It’s a road the 6-foot point guard readily admits he isn’t counting on.

For now, McCarthy is focused on breaking into a rotation that already features Siyani Chambers, who’ll be a fourth-year starter for the Crimson later this year, and helping Harvard in its quest to qualify for the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight year.

McCarthy said he’s eager to learn about the game from Chambers, who last season was a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard.

“If the opportunity (to play professionally) presents itself, it’s definitely something I want to do, it’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid,” McCarthy said.

“But if not, that’s part of the reason I’m going to Harvard. If basketball doesn’t work out, I’ll have a great degree that’ll get me a job somewhere else, wherever that may be.”

McCarthy acknowledged he was putting academics first in selecting Harvard, and admits he’d been recruited by higher-profile basketball programs that perhaps offered better basketball opportunities after college.

But in selecting Harvard, he wasn’t writing off a professional basketball career, either. Although not exactly known as an NBA factory, Harvard has put itself on the professional basketball radar in recent years. The trend began with Jeremy Lin, who became an international sensation earlier this decade and just completed his fifth NBA season. He was the fourth Crimson player to go on to play in the NBA and the first since 1954 (Ed Smith).

Undrafted Crimson guard Wesley Saunders earlier this month signed a professional contract with the New York Knicks. Chambers could join that group, too.

McCarthy’s combination of ability and aptitude is rare, according to Cassaw.

“He can do things on the court that a lot of other kids can’t do because he has that unique combination where he’s smart, he’s hardworking, he’s competitive and he has a high skill level,” Cassaw said. “He can make shots, make passes and create things that a lot of kids just don’t do naturally.”

Cassaw attributes McCarthy’s basketball development to a tireless work ethic, calling him a “classic gym rat,” which he believes benefited McCarthy as much in the classroom as it did in the gym.

“I think the key was being able to manage my time and know my priorities,” McCarthy said.

“In high school, obviously there’s a lot of distractions, so I really just tried to stay away from some of the distractions and really just put school, basketball and my family first.”

He credits his father, Tom, with helping him identify his priorities and keeping him grounded.

Perhaps no other decision demonstrated the clarity of McCarthy’s priorities more than his selecting Harvard.

“The thing that it came down to with Harvard was just realizing that if basketball doesn’t work out, or even if basketball does work out, after that the ball’s going to stop bouncing at some point and I’m going to have to get a real job and support myself,” McCarthy said. “I thought Harvard would do the best job for that.”

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