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Former Hoyas coach Thompson: 'I love Mac McClung'

Larry Edens • Dec 16, 2018 at 10:30 AM

WASHINGTON — Because of a longstanding Georgetown athletic department policy that forbids freshman athletes from speaking to the media during their first semester of college, talented guard and former Gate City star Mac McClung was unavailable for comment after the Hoyas’ basketball game against Southern Methodist on Saturday.

As it turned out, he probably wouldn’t have had much good to say about it anyway.

In an 81-73 loss at Capital One Arena, McClung tossed in 13 points on 3-for-8 shooting from the floor. He missed both of his 3-point attempts, but then again not many of his teammates found the net from that range either. Collectively, the Hoyas (7-3) hit just 4 of 18 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc; SMU (7-4) shot a respectable 40 percent from beyond the arc (10 of 25) and Georgetown just couldn’t overcome the six-bucket differential.

On the positive side for McClung, he reached the foul line four times and hit 7 of 9 free-throw attempts. It was the most foul shots he had made in one game this season.

Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing was pleased with McClung’s aggressiveness on the offensive end, an initiative Ewing said that was not necessarily coach-inspired.

“It is something he has done on his own,” Ewing said. “He’s an attacking type of player and because of that he will get more calls from the officials.”

McClung’s driving style certainly was not lost on SMU coach Tim Jankovich. While his pregame scouting report revealed an opponent whose big men were well versed in spacing and how to nullify a double-team, it also acknowledged that the Hoyas’ guards — primarily McClung and fellow freshman James Akinjo — were relentless in their pursuit of the rim.

“The guards that he has really bring it. They are fast and push the ball hard at you,” Jankovich said. “They put you on your heels and also force a lot of fouls.”

In the world of social media, the duo of McClung and Akinjo is known as #mackinjo. Their paths to Ewing and Georgetown are similar: Akinjo reopened his recruitment after originally committing to Connecticut; McClung found Georgetown after de-committing from Rutgers.

The story of McClung’s recruitment is well known. It has been in the public domain for some time but is worth revisiting.

Only a handful of Power Five schools initially recruited the three-star athlete and Kingsport Times News Player of the Year. He was offered scholarships from Rutgers out of the Big Ten and Big East icon Georgetown, but schools like Atlantic Coast Conference regional favorite Virginia Tech came onboard later in the process. In fact, that school, the alma mater of his father, Marcus, a juvenile domestic relations judge for the 30th Circuit Court, was a school Mac McClung loved while growing up.

During his sophomore season in high school, he attended one of the Hokies’ basketball camps with the hope of putting on a display that would attract their attention and perhaps lead to a basketball scholarship in just a couple of years. According to a source familiar with the goings-on at the event, what he got instead was a lukewarm review from an assistant coach there who told him he was too small and not athletic nor skilled enough to play at their level. In the subsequent two years, McClung got better — much better — and the Hokies had a change of heart. But so had he; he never returned their calls.

When he committed to play for the Scarlet Knights, it was commonly thought that his recruitment was over. But after spending a couple of days in New Jersey and amid much soul-searching, he decided to de-commit. In an October 2017 news release, McClung said “something did not feel right with me there” but made clear that the “something” had nothing to do with the Rutgers coaching staff or basketball team.

Enter Ewing and the Hoyas.

Soon after McClung withdrew his commitment to Rutgers, Ewing was in Gate City, once again vying for the services of the VHSL Class 2 player of the year. A multitude of schools had since developed interest in the multitalented player, but Ewing won out and, in the process, won over the McClung family.

In fact, every three weeks or so, the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach — named in 1996 as one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time — phones Marcus McClung to see how he and his family are doing.

Like all college freshman athletes, McClung is a work in progress. Even though he finished his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in VHSL history with 2,801 points and holds the all-time single-season scoring record with 1,153 points, many pundits wondered if he could parlay his high school success, forged primarily against small-town competition, into a noteworthy college career, particularly in a conference that boasts reigning national champion Villanova.

But just 10 games into his freshman season, McClung is making inroads. His game-by-game statistics show gradual improvement: He committed eight turnovers over his first three games but only eight since; he missed his first 14 3-point shots but now is shooting just under 33 percent from the perimeter; he is averaging nearly 25 minutes per game; and he’s scoring an average of 9.6 points a game. McClung’s single-game bests are 18 points, six made field goals and three made 3-point shots, all of which came in the Hoyas’ ninth game, a 72-71 loss to Syracuse. Though these statistics help measure progress, such intangibles as heart, attitude, confidence and leadership can’t be put on a graph. McClung brought that unmeasurable with him to Georgetown and it is beginning to show.

There were just over 6,700 fans in attendance for Saturday’s game. One of those was legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr., a big fan of McClung and for reasons that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“I love Mac McClung. A lot of kids can’t handle the rigors of college basketball, especially at this level, but he has proven that he can,” said Thompson, who won a national championship with Georgetown in 1984. “He is very polite and the type of kid that I would have recruited.”

That’s saying a lot from someone who recruited McClung’s coach, arguably one of the best college and professional centers of all time.

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