Mackenzie Mgbako Q&A

Updated: Jun 11

Credit: @dfritzphotos (IG)

A native of New Jersey, Mackenzie Mgbako has learned from other high-level hoopers within the Tri-state area and is poised to add his name to the list of local greats. Standing at 6’8” with a strong 220-pound frame in conjunction with a versatile inside/outside skill-set, it’s no secret why he’s one of the top ranked prospects in the country and a highly sought after recruit by numerous high major college programs. After missing a large amount of his sophomore season due to both COVID-19 and injuries, Mgbako is eager to get back at it this season and help lead Gill St. Bernard to their first-ever Tournament of Champions victory.

As part of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Mgbako discusses the basketball culture in the Tri-state area, his experience with the Nigerian National Team this summer, his recruitment update, his off-court interests, creating generational wealth, and much more.

For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2023 prospect Mackenzie Mgbako, from Somerset, New Jersey:

Pro Insight: Can you share a bit about your background?

Mackenzie Mgbako: My name is Mackenzie Mgbako, I’m a 6’8” point-forward and I go to school in Peapack and Gladstone, New Jersey. I go to St. Bernard’s High School. I’m 17 years old, just turned 17 this past November. My mom is Haitian and my dad is Nigerian. I also have three siblings.

PI: Are you the oldest of your siblings?

MM: No, I’m the third. I’ve got an older sister and an older brother, then it’s me and my younger brother.

PI: Any other athletes in the family?

MM: Yeah my younger brother plays basketball, he’s in eighth grade right now. He goes to the same school as me. My dad was a triathlete, as well.

PI: Did you play other sports growing up?

MM: Yeah, I used to do track and field in my middle school days as well as football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, etc. Any sport, you name it and I did it.

PI: When did you primarily start to focus on basketball?

MM: I started focusing on basketball in sixth grade and by seventh grade I decided to explore options. I started playing lacrosse because I was at a new school so I tried to get acclimated and to do stuff to make new friends. I did baseball in my public school in sixth grade and by eighth grade it was strictly just basketball.

PI: What was your introduction to basketball?

MM: I actually started playing around fourth or fifth grade. I started playing because my oldest brother started playing. He didn’t take it as seriously as I did, but I thought it was a nice sport so I wanted to join and do what he was doing.

PI: Do you feel like you were naturally good from the start?

MM: The height was most definitely a natural gift I would say, but I honed my skills to get to the place where I’m at now. My shot, that’s all I used to focus on when I was little and now I’m starting to come into my handle more, as well as my pull-up jump shot, posts moves, etc. You name it, I got it.

PI: Was there a certain moment or time period where you felt like you could be really good at basketball?

MM: Not necessarily, I’ve always had the same mindset which is be the best at whatever I wanted to do. So just going hard and putting in the time has gotten me to the place I’m at, and that’s just a result of hard work. So I wouldn’t say I had it coming for me, but when you work, it should pay off in multitudes of ways and this is the way it’s paid off for me.

PI: Describe the basketball culture in New Jersey.

MM: We have a lot of competitors in New Jersey, both in New York and New Jersey, the Tri-state area. Philly is also involved. Just a lot of hoopers going at it, Roselle Catholic, Bergen Catholic, Gill St. Bernard, Blair Academy, etc. Just a lot of teams and a lot of talent. I think five New Jersey players are top-30 in the country for the class of 2023, so we have a very skilled state to stay the least. Then we have alumni like JR Smith, Coach Dajuan Wagner who is the New Jersey Scholars coach and I look up to him. There’s a lot of other vets like Isaiah Briscoe, who is playing overseas or in the G League, Louis King [Sacramento Kings], Naz Reid [Minnesota Timberwolves], etc. Just a lot of players who have been successful from New Jersey.

PI: How does the style of basketball in New Jersey differ from other east or west coast styles?

MM: To be honest the difference from each school, I know at my school we like to run plays. It’s free-form, but there’s more concepts behind it. I know other schools might have a Princeton offense or just push in transition. It’s a mixture of all of them to say the least. I don’t really know much about west coast hoops, so I couldn’t speak too much on that.

PI: What are your current measurements?

MM: I’m 6’8” with my shoes off…shoes give you like a half-inch to an inch, so with shoes I’m 6’8.5” to 6’9”. I’m not sure about my wingspan, I haven’t had that measured in a while. Shoe size is 15-15.5. Hand size, not sure how to measure that either, and hair is almost going past my eye, but not yet, though [smiles]. I’m 220 pounds right now [also]. They gotta update the websites, they still got me at 180 pounds.

PI: Where do you get your size from?

MM: I’d have to say my grandparents — my grandma is about 6’1”. My dad is about 5’11” and my mom is about 6’0”. So probably my mom’s side if I was to say a family member, like my whole family is tall. All of the boys are tall.

PI: Are you the tallest in the family?

MM: As of right now, yeah. Hopefully my little brother who is 6’3” and 14 [years old], I’m trying to get him to like 6’9” or 6’10” [laughs].

PI: For those who aren’t super familiar with your game, what are your greatest strengths on the court?

MM: Probably something that separates me from others that play my position is I can shoot the ball really well. That’s something I started off doing before anything else, like even before putting it on the ground. So I hold my shot to be one of the top shots in the country. I’m working on becoming a leader and making plays for my teammates, finding the open man, etc. I’m good off screens, can pick-and-pop. I can drive more aggressively, and my athleticism is coming with that, so being more aggressive on the boards, offensive and defensive. Then my pull-ups and step-backs, the mid-range. A lot of kids don’t have a mid-range right now and I think I can use that to my advantage. And floaters, too.

PI: What type of leader are you?

MM: I’m a leader who likes to get everybody involved early, whether that’s on the defensive or offensive side. And I hold everyone to an accountability [standard] that I hold myself to. So if I wanted to be doing something on the court that was correct I would want somebody to tell me that and likewise for them.

PI: What about some improvement areas?

MM: Most definitely my ball-handling because for the team I’m playing with right now we don’t have too many guards. We have a senior guard, Denver Anglin, a Georgetown commit, but after that it’s me and we have a freshman PG that’s a little inexperienced, but that will come with time. So I think I have to start moving more into the PG position so I can start making plays for my teammates and just work on my handle so I don’t get stripped from smaller guards that will be guarding me.

PI: What type of stuff are you doing now to tighten your handle?

MM: Just working everyday doing two-ball drills, one-ball drills, game scenarios, running plays at the PG just knowing the concepts, knowing to make reads, using my size against smaller players, pushing in transition, looking for the open man, etc.

PI: What are some underrated aspects of your game you don’t get enough credit for?

MM: I think my post game is very underrated. I showed it a little bit during the EYBL circuit, but not too much. I wasn’t at 100-percent, but I think this year people are really going to be shocked by that because I haven’t really shown too much of my post game, yet. Like my left-hand hook shot, fadeaways, pump fakes, euros, spin moves, all of that. I’ll showcase that this year.

PI: Talk about this past summer — what do you feel like you showed coaches and scouts?

MM: I showed coaches my shooting capabilities and how they’re very much different from other people playing against me or people my size. I was able to knock down shots at a high percentage, so I was consistent. I think the thing I showed them the most was my handle and creating shots for myself. Which I worked on during the off-season, so I liked to show them that as well. I think my tenacity on the boards was really good, as well as late-game situations — just making the right play, whether it’s like flopping and getting the ball back on offense or forcing a turnover or jump ball.

PI: How would you describe yourself as a defender?

MM: I’m most definitely an in-your-face [type], hand checking, but not to the point where they call the foul. I would like to guard 94 feet, but I don’t know if I could do that just yet, so I’d say [I guard starting at] the half-court. Getting a few blocks in there, maybe average three blocks per game, that wouldn’t be too bad.

PI: How do you project yourself up as a defender?

MM: As a defender I want to guard either 1-4 or 2-4 because when you get older, the centers just become way too big. They’re in the 6’10” range and around 240-250 pounds so that wouldn’t really make sense. Unless they’re guarding me, I want the switch to take them off the dribble.

PI: How has playing for the Scholars helped you on and off the court?

MM: I’ve been with the New Jersey Scholars for about four years now, so I’ve been with them for a while. They just nurtured me. Open gyms whenever I could get in the gym they were there to provide a gym. Learned a lot under Coach Wagner, just teaching me how to be a better guard, make the right reads, get open shots from the top of the key or from the mid-post. Also, just being more of a leader off the court. Like after a loss to talk to your teammates and see how they’re feeling. If we had a good game to celebrate the win and then just focus on the next one because the job’s not done.

PI: With the high school season upon us — what are some of your goals for this year?

MM: Some of my goals are to win the Tournament of Champions, my school hasn’t done it yet so that would be a good accomplishment to have under my belt. Especially for my senior who will be leaving me this year, I have played with him for three years now. So that would be a good accomplishment for the both of us to have. Just honing my skills so they can be better at the next level, which is college and wherever I go after that. Whether that’s shooting college threesor NBA threes and then making shots at the mid-range. Making shots at the [high school] three-point line would be a mid-range [for the NBA] and then finishing through contact and making sure my team is involved. It’d be great to have four players with double-digits each game — I know it’s maybe not realistic, but to just try to get to that.

PI: What are some of your long term goals?

MM: Making it to the NBA and then creating generational wealth for my family and my family to come. Making a brand for myself that can follow me even after I’ve died and having an impact on the world however that may be.

PI: You recently took part in activities with the Nigerian National Team — what did you take away from that experience?

MM: It was just nice playing with pros who made it to the next level after college. Just getting that experience and learning tips from them, whether it be like how to come off a screen, how to fake and get open off a ball screen or flare screen. Just talking with them about how to prepare for the next level and what type of preparations you need to make in order to get there. How to take care of your body, how to eat right, nourishment, etc. How to go hard every day because you’re not promised a starting position because somebody can take your spot. It was just nice talking with them. Also talking about the college route, talking with Precious [Achiuwa] and how he went to Memphis, talking with Gabe Vincent who is with the Miami Heat, as well as some veterans, Ben [Uzoh] who played overseas for a while and with the Nigerian team. So it was nice.

PI: What was some other feedback from coaches and players to take into this season and beyond?

MM: They said to “play my game” and “be comfortable with what you do. Don’t do anything that would be out of your comfort zone because you just want to show off what you can do and then when you’re in the off-season work on what you can’t do until you make it into what you can do.”

PI: How did that experience boost your confidence as you begin the high school season?

MM: It boosted my confidence tremendously. Just know I can go head-to-head with basically pros. They’re in their 20s and 30s and at the time I was 16 years old, so it was just nice to know that my hard work is paying off at the highest level. So that was good.

PI: How well would you say you matched up against some of those guys?

MM: Skill-wise yes, but stretch and physical capability, not so much. I haven’t been in the gym half as long as they had, so they had like years ahead of me in that aspect of it. But if we go down the skills, I think I have the same amount of skills as they do, maybe even more.

PI: What’s the latest with your recruitment? What visits have you taken recently?

MM: I’ve taken visits to Duke, Ohio State, Memphis, and Kentucky.

Duke: It was the first visit I took right before the school year started and it was amazing. One-of-a-kind, for sure. Saw the coaches, watched their practices, saw how it went down, talked to the coaches a lot, ate great food in North Carolina so it was nice. Then spent time with the players after the practice was over on Saturday, it was nice.

Ohio State: We went to a big football game against Akron. They blew the team out, but just being in that atmosphere was ridiculous, they have great fans, atmosphere, team, and inclusiveness so that was really nice. They really made me feel at home.

Kentucky: We went there for Big Blue Nation Day. That was nice watching Coach Calipari talk about Terrance Clarke, sorry for the loss, which was really heartwarming to me because he was a player I kind of modeled my game after when I was in middle school, looking up to him. Then just seeing the players and how they go hard, 110-percent for their practices in the morning and afternoon. Then relaxing in the evening, so that was good.

Memphis: Talked with Penny Hardaway as well as had a great conversation with Rasheed Wallace. Talked to Emoni Bates, him being so young and playing in an atmosphere where it’s surrounded by grown men. So talking to him about that and how he’s feeling with those experiences.

PI: Are you taking any more visits?

MM: As of right now I’m not taking anything. Just focusing on the basketball season.

PI: Who have you been hearing from the most lately?

MM: Those four schools I’ve been hearing from equally to be honest. I’m also hearing from Kansas, UCLA, UConn, Auburn, etc. Hearing from a lot of schools that are still in the mix.

PI: Any programs you would like to hear from that you haven’t heard from yet?

MM: I’d like to hear from Gonzaga and maybe Baylor. Those schools I’d like to talk to, that’d be nice.

PI: Would you consider playing in the G League/OTE/overseas in lieu of college?

MM: I’d personally like to go to college. I don’t think the G League or OTE thing would be for me. You can never rule out options so soon, but I would like to go to college.

PI: Outside of basketball — what are you looking forward to the most about college?

MM: Making friends and meeting new people. Being away from home for an extended period of time and seeing how that is, living on my own, because I’ve been living with my parents for my whole life. So just seeing how that is.

PI: Any early plans on what you could major in?

MM: Maybe a psychology major. I like studying psychology in school. Maybe biology or entrepreneurship, business man, making my own company. I’m trying to get into stocks, as well — my older brother is into that and that’s like easy money. Passive income. We’ll see how that works out.

PI: What interests you about psychology?

MM: Just learning about how people act the way they act due to the stuff going on in their brain. Learning about the parts of the brain itself, like the hippocampus, all of that good stuff.

PI: Would you categorize yourself as an introspective guy?

MM: Umm, yeah. I guess you could say that.

PI: What are you ultimately looking for in your school of choice?

MM: Looking for a school where I can play my game and as well as conform to what they already have there and build upon it. Looking for a school that could build me as a player and person off the court. A place where I can get a great education as well as a place that loves to push the ball and get threes. I love threes.

PI: What kind of system do you feel best fits your strengths as a player?

MM: Just a free-flowing offense with some concepts. Moving the ball and not having it stuck in one place. Offense where I can get to my positions on the court, whether it be in the paint or top of the key and making plays for other teammates, as well.

PI: How do you see your role at the next level?

MM: Probably being the player that they go to when they need a bucket. Like nine times out of ten when they need someone to score they’re giving the ball to me. I want to take on that responsibility.

PI: What are some things you bring to a team off the court?

MM: Off the court I’m very charismatic. I can make you laugh even if I don’t try…you're smiling right now so I got it [interviewer laughs]. Just my goofiness, the way I connect with my teammates off the court, whoever it may be, making sure everyone feels included in what we’re doing and just being a family.