Sacramento State junior guards Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney have games as different as their personalities and backgrounds.
So why are they developing into one of the most productive men’s basketball backcourts in the Big Sky Conference?
“Opposites attract,” says McKinney, who moved often while growing up and learned his game playing pickup games on the Bay Area blacktops of Oakland, San Francisco and Union City. “Our games kind of feed off each other.”
While they’re not quite at the point of finishing each other’s sentences, they have developed a special bond, Garrity said, by melding their best attributes in a bid to lead Sac State to its first winning season since moving to Division I in 1991.
“We balance each other out,” said Garrity, who grew up in Huntington Beach and learned his game in structured youth and travel leagues. “And we work well together. We’re always trying to find each other for the open look.”
Garrity, 6-foot-2, was a pass-first point guard at Edison High School, where Hornets coach Brian Katz immediately fell in love with Garrity’s understated game and calm demeanor.
Garrity, who became a starter and key contributor for the Hornets as a freshman, is a two-time Big Sky Conference honorable-mention selection and ranks as the conference’s active career leader in assists with 380.
With a shoot-first reputation and ability to attack off the dribble, the 6-1 McKinney joined the Hornets last season from Ohlone College in Fremont, where he was all-state. Initially, Katz was concerned that McKinney might be a one-dimensional role player for the Hornets.
Instead, the feisty McKinney started all 29 games last season while averaging 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
“You couldn’t ask for more polar opposites,” Katz said. “Dylan was a guy who’d much rather pass than shoot, and Mikh was an aggressive, aggressive scorer. So I told them, ‘You guys need to become more like each other. If you do that, then we’ll have something good.’ ”
Do they ever.
They are Sac State’s only double-figure scorers and have accounted for more than half of their team’s assists this season. They are also among the Big Sky leaders in assists-to-turnover ratio, a statistic Katz said is telling of a player’s effectiveness.
“What’s happened now is that they’ve become interchangeable,” Katz said. “Now they are combo guards. It’s almost like the old system where you were just guards.”
The Hornets’ team captains are quick to credit each other for making their games more well-rounded.
“From Day One, just watching Dylan, I’ve learned so much about how to make good decisions and not always force the issues,” said McKinney, who led the Hornets in scoring at 14.1 points per gameentering Saturday night’s home game against Eastern Washington. “He always makes the right pass, though it may not be the highlight-reel-making play.”
Garrity, who averages 12.2 points, said McKinney has helped elevate his defensive intensity.
“Since he’s gotten here, he’s made me work extremely hard,” Garrity said. “He’s the hardest guy I’ve ever had to guard in my life. He’s quick and finds little creases and cracks in the defense and can make things happen.”
Last season, the duo came close to helping Sac State post its first winning men’s basketball record in the D-I era. But the Hornets lost their last two games, at Montana State and Montana, to finish 14-15 overall and 8-12 in the Big Sky. That cost them a shot at the conference playoffs.
“We know how important every little inch is, and how little room for error there is,” McKinney said. “We learned a lot from last year.”
But the breakthrough bid is still a work in progress for a team with only two seniors among its top 10 players.
Entering Saturday night, the Hornets were 5-9 overall and 1-4 in the conference and coming off a 68-64 overtime home loss to Portland State on Thursday. Seven of the 11 Big Sky teams qualify for the conference tournament.
The Hornets have eight of their last 14 games at home.
“We’ve got the schedule set up to make a push and win some games and get into the tournament,” Garrity said.
McKinney agrees the best is ahead for the Hornets.
“Right now, we feel we’re in a good place,” McKinney said.
That’s a feeling McKinney says extends beyond the floor for him.
“I’m building a great relationship with Dylan,” McKinney said. “This is the first time I’ve played on a team multiple years. So I’ve never had someone that I’ve been able to work with for a while. I feel blessed to be friends with him and blessed to play with him on the court. And what’s neat is we still got next year.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.