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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utah Valley Wolverines guard Brandon Randolph (3) and Brigham Young Cougars guard McKay Cannon (24) eye each other after a foul by Randolph as UVU and BYU play a College basketball game in the UCCU center at UVU in Orem Utah on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. BYU won 85-58.
He’s as competitive a kid as I’ve ever coached and this is my 23rd year. —Dave Hadley

How good is the Cannon Ball?

McKay Cannon’s career as a BYU point guard is still in its early stages. Way too early stages. But in two games the Weber State transfer has marked his territory on the court, coming off the bench for Dave Rose as a 6-foot stout point guard.

It’s a simple role for Shelley High School’s (Idaho) all-time leading scorer: Play hard, hustle, be a facilitator, play smart, understand the game and where to fit inside it and give total effort on defense. It helps if wins somehow pile up.

Heading into Wednesday's home game against Illinois State and Saturday’s clash with Weber State in the Beehive Classic, Cannon is BYU’s third-leading scorer at 12.5 points a game behind Yoeli Childs (16.9 ppg) and Elijah Bryant (16.5).

That Cannon’s impact has been immediate and dramatic in road wins at UVU and Utah State doesn’t surprise his high school coach Dave Hadley, who is now at West Jefferson High, a small school located in a rural town outside Rexburg, Idaho.

Cannon was the youngest player Hadley ever put in a varsity game when he was just a freshman.

“His first game at the varsity level was tough because he took over for an older kid,” said Hadley.

“He got tripped up and made a behind-the-back bounce pass to a guy for a layup. The kid whose place he took was on the bench at the time. I’ll never forget it, he turned to me and said, ‘Man, coach, I’ve never even thought of doing that in my wildest dreams.’

“From on then, the kids knew he was a cut above. He played Skyline High in his third or fourth varsity game, a 5A team where we were 3A and he had 34 points. You just knew then, regardless of what we needed of him, McKay was going to give it.”

In his first game for BYU, Cannon showed a lot of moxie in a win over UVU. It was just hours after the NCAA granted him a waiver to be eligible. He didn’t even travel to New York when BYU played a pair of games the week before.

On Saturday night, Cannon repeated tough, smart play in a win in the Spectrum, USU’s very tough venue where the crowd tends to get in the heads of shooters. Cannon simply shut out everything but the next play down the court.

When starters Jahshire Hardnett or TJ Haws needed a break, Cannon came in and seamlessly delivered what was needed at the moment. If he stays consistent, that would be a rare shot in the arm for Dave Rose, who is without veteran Nick Emery this season, the team’s best defender.

“He’s as competitive a kid as I’ve ever coached and this is my 23rd year,” said Hadley. “He got time as a freshman, which didn’t just happen a whole lot ever in my tenure, to have a player play up as a freshman on varsity.

“His skill speaks for itself. He is the all-time leading scorer at our high school (1,410 points). As a point guard, he was able to do just about anything.”

What Rose has seen in two games, Hadley saw in Cannon's career at Shelley.

“The thing that stood out about McKay is his ability to adapt to whatever role we needed. On nights we needed him to score, he scored. On the nights we needed him to be a facilitator; he was a great facilitator. He never, ever took a minute off in practice and that shows in his talent.”

Cannon seems like he comes in all wound up, somehow driven, as if he needs to show something to somebody, like he has a chip on his shoulder.

Explained Hadley: “He’s the kind of kid who is a big day-to-day kid. He is one of those people who wakes up in the morning with a plan to attack every day. I think that is hard for high school kids who wait and see what happens and then react to that so often in life. McKay, I think, got up in the morning knowing what he wanted to do and had that focus. I know that is helping him immensely right now.”

The fact that Cannon missed playing in BYU’s first six games and didn’t travel to New York, yet came in at UVU and looked like he hadn't missed a beat is a familiar thing to Hadley.

“That doesn’t surprise me. The thing about McKay is he understands what he strengths are and he understands what his weaknesses are and he just plays to those. I don’t think you’ll ever see McKay at the collegiate level take somebody and break them down off the dribble one-on-one. But I also don’t think you are going to find may kids at any collegiate school who know how to deliver the ball at the right time at the right place like McKay does," said Hadley.

“When at Weber State, a radio guy called me and I told him the thing his teammates would love about him is he was going to get them the ball when and where they needed it. He has a knack for that, of being able to start an offense. Physically he’s gotten a lot stronger since he left Shelley and starting as many games as he did at Weber State (40) has to help with that game time adjustment.”

In two games for BYU, Cannon is 6 of 9 from the field, 3 of 4 from distance. He is a perfect 10 of 10 from the line and has eight assists and five rebounds. This comes as a role player off the bench.

Is Cannon a great, above average or average 3-point shooter?

“I’d say he’s an above average 3-point shooter but the thing about him is he is fearless. I heard his interview after his first game and he said the shot clock was going down and just had to let it fly. He is an intelligent kid and he’s going to understand when that is needed of him," said Hadley.

“I’d say he isn’t a kid you are going to run a lot of set plays for to get that shot because he knows when and where he is going to take that shot. If plays are designed around other players, he is the kind of guy who knows where to be and will be ready if the time comes for him to shoot that kind of shot.”

It is way early, but in two games Cannon is absolutely proving he can, in part, definitely offset the absence of Emery with smart, clutch play.

Cannon was a long shot to even play for Rose this season. His 25 points for BYU in two games surpass the 20 points he had in his last 12 games at Weber State.

That is a pretty big shot from Cannon.