Like any elite guard, Duke's Jared McCain needs to be able to make decisions quickly and on instinct.
"It's really whatever I'm feeling at the salon," the freshman said.
In the first month of his freshman season, McCain has already sported three different shades of paint on his fingernails.
"For our first practice, I said, 'Let's lock it in.' So I got black," he explained. "But in the light, it was kind of a purplish blue. So the vibe was lock in with Duke."
For the preseason scrimmages and exhibition games in late October, he switched to pink "for Breast Cancer Awareness Month."
Jared McCain is a big fan of manicures. Here?s his nail job for Breast Cancer Awareness month pic.twitter.com/b8gVoEkXND
— Shawn Krest (@ShawnKrest) October 21, 2023
And for opening night, he went with Duke blue.
Jared McCain?s new nail color for opening night pic.twitter.com/GiE38jOFdd
— Shawn Krest (@ShawnKrest) November 7, 2023
"I get manicures," he said, laughing. "I'm paying for them, so I figure I might as well get a color. A lot of people have a problem with it. I don't know why. I just do it because it looks cool."
When McCain says "a lot of people" have a problem with his nails, he means it. While fellow Duke freshman Sean Stewart made headlines in the preseason for breaking Zion Williamson's team record for the vertical jump in combine workouts, McCain eclipsed another record set by the Blue Devils' legendary big man—biggest social media presence. Williamson arrived at Duke with a million Instagram followers, but McCain boasts two million followers on TikTok, to go with his 600,000 Instagram fans.
His social media superstardom comes from his TikTok dance videos.
"It started in quarantine," he said, "when I knew I couldn't be made fun of during school. I've always loved dancing since I was a kid. I just dance whenever I can. I said, 'I do exactly what they're doing with their big followings.' So, I just started watching dances, learning them, posting them and not caring what people thought. It really started to pop off at Peach Jam. I posted (dances) after we won each game, and, God willing, we won Peach Jam. It was the perfect connection to mix dancing with what I love."
Jared McCain is clearly a different kind of cat. His response to a bad shooting night isn't to put up more shots in the gym (although he was doing just that after Duke's loss to Arizona in their second game of the season). It's to "recenter myself and find my breath." The California native with the colorful nails has a morning routine that includes getting up early, journaling and meditation before starting his day, and just might be the top shooting guard in the freshman class.
In his first game, McCain knocked down a three-pointer and told his defender, "You've got to step up next time."
"Yeah, I don't know," he said with a laugh. "He went under the screen, and ... that's what I love to do. I don't know what the scout was saying to him, but he went under the screen. I felt like I had to shoot that. I was so ready."
Clearly, while he professes "smiles, love and positivity" on TikTok, he's all business when he's playing ball.
"It's different how I approach it," McCain said. "I'm smiling, laughing on TikTok. It's all positivity. But on the court, I'm centered, having that quietness in the mind. It's funny, I see pictures of myself on the court, and sometimes I'm smiling, but I don't feel that. I'm more of a serious person on the court. I focus on my craft. I like having those almost separate personalities, so I can really lock in on the court."
As his ever-changing nail color shows, he's not worried about drawing the ire of his millions of followers. He didn't care what people thought when he started dancing, and he still doesn't.
"I kind of knew coming in, especially at Duke—one of the most hated schools in basketball, you're going to be hated on," he said. "Being on TikTok, having a social media following, I'm just being me. I can't listen to other people's opinions. It's tough at times. I'll be like, 'Why am I getting hated on? All I'm doing is dancing, smiling and trying to spread some positivity.' But they'll find a way to hate. You've just got to realize, it's just them projecting their insecurities, wanting what you have. You just have to not respond. My family always has my back. They'll want to go on and respond, but I have to tell them they've just got to stay off of it."
If there was any questions about whether McCain was ready to be the lightning rod for one of the most polarizing teams in college basketball, he saw what life would be like soon after getting to campus.
"I just needed some floss," he remembered.
So, he drove to the nearest Target, which happened to be eight miles down the road, on Franklin Street, in Chapel Hill.
"I got booed in Target," he said. "I was just getting toiletries, and I got booed. The rivalry is huge out here."
It was his "welcome to Duke" moment, and McCain relished the chance to draw the ire of opposing fans in the biggest rivalry in sports.
"I was like, 'Wow, really? Duke players are going to be hated by North Carolina fans, no matter what,'" he said. "I'm sure I'm going to hear from them on TikTok in the comments."
As with any social media influencer, it all comes down to the comments.
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