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Duke's Jared McCain talks NBA draft decision, blocking out social media critics

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos04/09/24


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Notice to trolls: Jared McCain does not frequently check his social media accounts.

The Duke freshman has drawn criticism in recent weeks for painting his nails before games. Along with being an NIL star with roughly 3.7 million social media followers, he’s also a projected lottery pick in June’s NBA draft.

“It’s tough sometimes, especially when you lose games,” he told On3 in a recent interview. “Everybody wants to critique everything. But coach made it very clear at the beginning of the season, that’s going to happen. You just got to stick together, stick to the ones that really are supporting you throughout the whole journey. Because there are so many people that are going to say so many crazy things online, you just have to block it out.”

Playing in the age of social media and NIL has forced McCain to have some tough skin. He’s not the only athlete to speak out about the complaints he’s received from fans. NBA players and coaches have recently expressed concern about the reaction of gamblers who lose prop bets because of athletes’ performances.

“It’s terrible,” North Carolina’s Armando Bacot said during a news conference prior to the Sweet 16. “Even at the last game, I guess I didn’t get enough rebounds or something. I thought I played pretty good last game. But I looked at my DMs, and I got, like, over 100 messages from people telling me I sucked and stuff like that because I didn’t get enough rebounds.”

Jared McCain explains NIL brand, approach

Jared McCain has been a social media influencer dating back to his high school days.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound guard inked a multi-year deal with Champs as a senior at Centennial High School in Corona, California. Working with Excel for NIL representation, he recently inked an agreement with the American beauty brand Sally Hansen and starred in a campaign for Kim Kardashian’s SKIMs. He also is an ambassador for Celsius Energy.

McCain has a $1.4 million On3 NIL Valuation, the No. 2 valuation in the college basketball NIL rankings. Part of what has made the Duke star attractive to brands is his authenticity. His social media channels are filled with videos of him singing and dancing, not just endorsement deals. That’s something he takes pride in.

“I’ve always been wanting to just do things a little differently,” he said. “Definitely started with the painting nails, obviously. But everything I do is kind of geared toward, ‘Is this going to fit my personality?’ Like signing with Celsius, just doing things that fit and align with my ideas, my goals and everything I stand for. That’s been a major key for me, picking anything I do. Just being myself.

“I’m going to credit my parents for the way they raised me to always stay true to myself and no matter how many hate comments or how many Twitter threads about me are out there, just always stay true to myself and never let anyone telling me what I can and can’t do.”

McCain has tapped into the larger platform Duke offers, too. He’s added more than a million followers on social media since his senior year of high school.

“Going to college, it definitely amplified everything,” he said. “It’s been cool to get like just different deals – everything just feels more real. It’s Duke. I’m on one of the biggest platforms in the country. So everything is just on a magnifying glass.”

Evaluating NBA draft options, return to Duke

Jared McCain, a former five-star recruit, averaged 14.3 points and five rebounds this season, shooting 46.2% from the field. The Duke freshman has a major decision to make these next few weeks, too. Does he come back for another season after failing to make the Final Four? Or does he head to the NBA where he is expected to be a lottery pick?

McCain has been slated to go No. 19 overall to the Toronto Raptors in the latest mock draft from ESPN. He was honest that NIL definitely is a factor in his decision because he knows he can make dollars if he returns to Duke.

Losing in the Elite Eight to rival NC State is still fresh. The Duke freshman was honest that coming short and not winning a national championship is top of mind. He scored 32 points in the NCAA Tournament loss.

The Blue Devils also hold the top-ranked recruiting class in the 2024 cycle, headlined by the nation’s top-ranked prospect, Cooper Flagg. McCain has met Flagg twice when the five-star prospect made visits to Durham. McCain said the possibility of playing with the high school sensation at Duke would be “super cool” but that will not be heavily considered in his decision.

“Leaving a legacy wherever I go is something I always pride myself on,” McCain said. “And I’ve always prided myself on just working hard and making sure people know that I actually care about this because a lot of stuff can get lost in translation because of social media. So, it’s definitely in consideration, for sure. That’s why I came here – to win a national championship.”