PHILADELPHIA — From his high school exit to his introduction to college basketball, much of former Gate City Blue Devil and Texas Tech Red Raiders’ basketball standout Mac McClung’s exploits on the hardwood have been underestimated.
After his prep career ended, he was woefully under-ranked as a high school basketball player. His 247Sports Composite player rating was 245 and he was lightly regarded as a Division One prospect. This despite his becoming Virginia’s all-time leading scorer and breaking Allen Iverson’s single-season scoring record. In addition, his alma mater won the state championship in their division his senior season. He scored 47 points in the championship game, eclipsing J. J. Redick’s 16-year-old record of 43 points set in 2002.
Enter Big East stalwart Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas, a highly regarded Division One school with a rich basketball tradition. The high-profile coach convinced the three-star recruit to choose Georgetown as the place where he would begin his college career. While playing in a game at the 2017 Arby’s Classic, the opposing team’s coach told McClung that he was going to Georgetown to sit on the bench; in fact, McClung started all 50 games that he played in for the Hoyas.
His transfer from Georgetown to Texas Tech after just two seasons raised some eyebrows. After all, he had become a rising star in the league and was getting more and more comfortable playing at that level. But behind the scenes, things were not going well and, for reasons McClung has never made public, he announced that he was transferring to Texas Tech for his junior season. He told ESPN in May of 2020, “I had no choice.”
In a phone interview on Thursday, McClung touched briefly on that unfortunate episode of his burgeoning career.
“I had to fight so hard through a lot of things, including injury. I wish people could see all the things over which I prevailed. I am proud of myself and grateful for the people I had in my corner. It turned out well.”
Indeed, it did. In his first and only season in Lubbock, Texas, McClung led the team in scoring (15.5 ppg) and was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. He also earned All-Big 12 Second-Team honors and was named to the Associated Press All-Big 12 First Team. His relationship with Coach Chris Beard was good and he hoped his tenure under Beard’s tutelage would transform him into an NBA prospect, something Beard had done for several current NBA players, including Jarrett Culver (guard, Minnesota) and Jahmi’us Ramsey (guard, Sacramento). Beard left Texas Tech to be the coach of Big-12 rival Texas and McClung announced his decision to declare for the NBA draft. He insists that one move did not lead to the other.
“[Beard’s leaving] made the situation a little different, but I wouldn’t say it made me decide to go to the NBA,” said McClung. “I will always have a great relationship with Coach Beard and Coach Adams (the current Texas Tech coach). I don’t think it persuaded me to [remain at Texas Tech or enter the draft].”
On Thursday, McClung will be in Chicago to participate in the NBA G League Elite Camp. The prestigious camp is one of two NBA combines and is populated by invitation-only players. NBA team personnel and scouts vote on which players they want to evaluate at the camp. For those who believe McClung will never be on an NBA roster, McClung says this: “The haters and the doubters mean nothing to me at this point. I’ve heard it all before and I’m not intimidated by it.” The invitation itself only validates the belief that McClung has in himself that he will reach the professional level of his sport.
“I weighed my options, looked at my opportunities, evaluated the positives and negatives of each, and decided now was the right time to chase my NBA dreams,” he said. “I was lucky to have built some great relationships with some people, [including former NBA coaches], and I took some of their advice.”
McClung is currently in Philadelphia working with renown NBA trainer Drew Hanlen, who specializes in improving the basketball skills of current or hopeful NBA players. That may include shooting mechanics or general game improvement. McClung has also been working out or is scheduled to work out with several NBA teams, including but not limited to the Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, and Phoenix Suns.
“I’m ecstatic and happy to have made one of the NBA combines. Only around 120 players total get invitations and luckily, I got enough votes to make the cut,” said McClung.
In the past, some players who have excelled at the G league Elite Camp have gotten extended invitations to participate in the NBA Draft combine which begins on June 21 and ends on the 27th. A few have even been drafted. McClung has defied the odds to date and for that reason his NBA dream lives on.
“[My dream] is the whole reason I made this decision. I do not know how it will go, or how my career will be determined, but [playing in the NBA] is my goal. Hopefully, I can be put in a great situation.”
If he is, do not underestimate him. We have seen how that turns out before.