Now that his recruitment is open again, several ACC schools showing interest in Justin McKoy

Justin McKoy made the biggest decision of his young life, and then his phone starting blowing up.

McKoy, the 6-8 senior from Panther Creek High School, asked Penn State from a release from his national letter of intent, which he signed November to play basketball for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State was gracious enough to release McKoy, who re-thought his choice about heading to Pennsylvania, way too far from his close knit family. The youngest of three, McKoy’s family was all he had growing up, and being 476 miles away was too much once he put some thought into it.

Twenty minutes after McKoy made it public that he was back on the recruiting market, the phone calls started coming in.

NC State called first, with Kevin Keatts offering immediately. Shortly after, Tony Bennett, head coach of Virginia, gave him a ring. It was non-stop for the first 48 hours, with coaches from UNC, East Carolina, Butler, Ole Miss, Kansas State, Tennessee and Missouri eventually checking in with the recently available McKoy.

“I started getting calls,” McKoy said. “And then within that next hour I got a lot of calls and my coach got calls, too.”

Keatts didn’t waste anytime, offering McKoy a scholarship over the phone and setting up a face-to-face meeting. Bennett wanted to talk longer, but at the time he was a little busy with the NCAA tournament. Bennett said he would be in touch, telling him the Cavaliers were going to win the national championship first - which they did Monday night.

Now that the season has ended, the recruiting process will start - again - for McKoy, who signed his NLI in November, but started having second thoughts by the end of the year.

“I think it was probably late December, early January, the more I thought about it, the more anxious I got about leaving my family,” McKoy said. “It’s really far and my family is all I had growing up. Just doing that would have been really hard.”

To their credit, as McKoy tells it, Penn State was “really cool about it” and he has nothing but the utmost respect for the staff for making this an easy, smooth, transition. When it was official McKoy felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. But he didn’t have a lot of time to sit back and relax. Sure, he was happy that he would get a chance to possibly get a chance to be closer to home, but the good news traveled fast, which meant the calls started coming in just as quickly.

The next few months for McKoy will look like a lot of visits, calls and courting from colleges. Roy Williams was scheduled to come watch an open gym, and unofficial visits to UVa are on the horizon, as well as an official to NC State. Williams offered McKoy on Thursday afternoon, McKoy confirmed in a text message. It’s already April, a time when majority of the top college seniors have already made their choice of where to play next season. McKoy doesn’t have a time line for when he plans to announce, but he’s also not going to milk it out until the summer.

“I’m not looking to draw this out too far, but I also don’t want to rush,” McKoy said. “I don’t want to make a quick decision and a bad decision by rushing it. I want to take my time. End of April would be nice … whenever I’m ready I’m ready, but I don’t want to draw it out too much.”

When McKoy selected Penn State, he picked the Nittany Lions over Appalachian State, Campbell, College of Charleston and Florida International. The three-star prospect saw his stock rise over the course of his career, including a breakout senior season for Panther Creek. McKoy (6-8, 225) averaged more than 20 points for three straight seasons and saw his average jump from 21.4 to 24.6 ppg from his junior to senior years. He also pulled down 10 rebounds per game his final season for the Catamounts. College coaches also noticed a difference.

“I think I just showed that I can dominate a game more,” McKoy said. “I know the past years I could dominate but my team, it was hard for us to win. With the team now, best season in school history (24-6), I showed that I could score at a high level. Every year I added something my game. Just smarter, letting the game come to me more.”

Keatts, particularly, saw something in McKoy that didn’t have to do with X’s and O’s. McKoy and Panther Creek played at the NC State team camp several summers, so Keatts was able to see McKoy up close and personal the last two years. But it was something different when McKoy played for the Catamounts as a senior.

“He said I just had a lot more swagger to myself,” McKoy said. “It was a new confidence and I do have that. I’ve gotten to the point where I know my abilities, and I know what I can do, so I am going to go out and do them.”

When McKoy met with Keatts, the Wolfpack coach talked about what role McKoy would play if he decided to play at NC State. The duo talked about the offense and the school in general. McKoy said he liked what Keatts had to say, and if it’s all true, he could see a fit for him in Raleigh. But he doesn’t want people to assume it’s a sure thing he’ll head to NC State, where his sister, Jasmine, is a student.

“That’s all I get on social media, a lot of people kind of making it seem like it’s a done deal and I haven’t decided yet,” McKoy said. “I can’t control what other people say. If your problem is trying to decide where to go to school for free that’s not a bad choice. I’m grateful for it and I’m not going to take it for granted. At the same time I don’t like when people make assumptions about where I am going to go already. It seems like someone is trying to make a decision and speak for me and I’m not too much of a fan of that.”

McKoy played AAU basketball with Garner Road before switching to Team Loaded last summer. Being on the circuit he’s seen guys he grew up with and played against committing to schools with better basketball pedigree. Being planted in the heart of ACC country didn’t help, watching Duke, UNC and NC State bring in players he also competed against. McKoy, who may have picked Penn State too early, never looked around and compared himself to guys who had a wheelbarrow full on ACC offers. He refused to get caught up in the ‘why am I not getting noticed?’ game.

“I’m strong in my faith and I remember one message my pastor preached is comparison is a thief of joy,” McKoy said. “I know it’s not going to make myself any happier comparing myself to them. I know everyone runs the race at a different pace. I felt like my journey is going to be my journey. It might be different from everyone else. At the end of the day I’m going to get where I’m going to get. I try to stay positive and content with that.”

Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.