Justin McKie heard the talk in the early stages of his basketball career — from the age of 7, 8 and 9 years old. What were at one time whispers seemed to increase the older he became. When he decided to leave Ridge View after his freshman season and enroll at Irmo, where is father, BJ McKie, was a star, the talk became a constant distraction.
“You will never be as good as your Dad.”
“You have to be like BJ. Anything else is unacceptable.”
“You can’t do that or you can’t do this like BJ used to.”
The younger McKie heard it all. It was always a reminder that BJ was one of the best prep players in South Carolina history before he went on to become the all-time leading scorer at the University of South Carolina.
Justin admits it was difficult at times, but he has come to peace with it.
It didn’t come easily.
“It was extremely hard,” Justin said. “I really struggled with it pretty much my whole life until this summer when I created my own identity. I had to step back and realize that we’re two different people and two different players. I get the job done just like he did, but it’s in a different way. He’s never put any pressure on me, so why should I put any on myself?”
BJ McKie is an assistant coach at Charleston Southern, and he remembers watching as his son was trying to create his own identity. The pressure always came from within because nobody in the McKie family was forcing the notion of Justin having to be as good as his father.
“Early on, Justin was his own first enemy, fighting trying to be better than me or trying to live up to all the other people’s expectations instead of being himself,” BJ McKie said. “During the summer, he realized to be himself, he didn’t have to be like me. As long as he played like Justin, people would accept him for who he is.”
But BJ admits it was difficult for him at times. While BJ was playing overseas, Justin was hearing those whispers that he would never be good enough.
“People don’t understand what Justin faced as a kid,” BJ said. “He was told he wasn’t going to be good enough, he was never going to be like his dad. This was coming from grown-ups, and that could have been very deflating for a kid. He kept pushing and because of that, my son is my hero. All the things he’s sacrificed for me to go overseas and experience some of the things I wanted to experience. He is without question my hero.”
The two have so many things in common the comparisons aren’t surprising. BJ McKie won two state titles at Irmo before going on to glory at USC then enjoying a long professional career.
Justin McKie, a senior, will be trying to win his second state title tonight when undefeated Irmo plays Goose Greek in the Class 4A championship game.
Irmo coach Tim Whipple has won four state championships during his 32-year career, and a McKie has been on the roster for three of them.
He has seen the 17-year-old Justin fight out of the shadow of being BJ’s son.
“I think where they are the same is their work ethic, their heart and their drive,” Whipple said. “They just refuse to lose. That’s something you can’t teach. You are born with that. It’s a lot of fun watching Justin handle the pressure that goes along with being BJ’s son. That’s not an easy thing. No matter what you do or where you are, you’re being compared. He’s handled it extremely well.”
Whipple believes the way Justin has elevated his game every season has caused some of the chatter to quiet.
“His on the floor performance has been really, really good, and that has helped the comparison not be as much as a distraction for him,” Whipple said. “It was a constant comparison from day one. He wants to be his own person. He’s got a thick skin there, and, hopefully, he’ll be able to handle it.”
Justin knows the comparison will continue next year — and probably increase — when he follows his father’s footsteps again and joins South Carolina’s program next season.
That is fine with him. His focus for today is to end his high school career the same way his father did, with a second championship ring.
“At the end of the day, the comparisons are going to be made whether I want to hear them or not,” Justin said. “I have to take it and be ready for it.”