McClain back in the fold
Wayne McClain has coached a game in front of 47,262 basketball fans.
That was the official attendance of the 2005 NCAA title game Illinois lost to North Carolina in St. Louis.
A crosstown rivalry game between Champaign Central and Champaign Centennial probably won't faze the new Central boys basketball coach.
Mind you, most of the attention that April night was centered on Bruce Weber and his orange jacket, but McClain, the former Illinois assistant, was vital during Weber's tenure in Champaign.
Plus, he has a well-established reputation across the state for his high school coaching exploits.
McClain came to Illinois in 2001 to join the staff of Bill Self and stayed on under Weber.
He coached future Illini Marcus Griffin, Frank Williams and his son, Sergio McClain, during his highly successful tenure as Peoria Manual's head coach from 1994-2001.
Tuesday's hiring might not reverse the Maroons' 5-20 record this past season or have college coaches flocking to Combes Gym next fall and winter to check out players, it is a move that catches the eye of the casual basketball fan.
"It helps the program to get itself up off the ground and brings an identity and instant respect from the players and the program," said Joe Henricksen, publisher of the City Suburban/Hoops Report and veteran talent evaluator. "Even opposing teams they'll play will recognize that this is a guy that was very respected throughout the state, even after he left high school basketball."
Most of the players McClain will coach next season at Central were toddlers when he was an integral part of Manual winning four straight state titles from 1994-97.
He was an assistant on the 1994 state championship team to coaching legend Dick Van Scyoc before he assumed the helm prior to the 1994-95 season.
While he never coached his son at Illinois and was on staff for the final season Williams played at Illinois, McClain was kept on at Illinois when Weber took the job.
All told, McClain is in his fifth decade of coaching basketball.
"Whe you got somebody coming in with his experience at the high school level and college level, I would tell them to appreciate and really cherish the opportunity they have to play for someone like Coach McClain," said Derrick Booth, Peoria Manual's current coach who played at Manual when McClain was an assistant coach there, helping the Rams to a second-place finish in Class AA in 1991. "He's going to have such a wealth of knowledge. Don't take for granted a coach of Coach McClain's caliber."
Sergio McClain said he's happy his father is back in Champaign after working this past season at Kansas State, where he was on Weber's staff as the director of student-athlete development.
Now, it's back to the grind of coaching high school basketball.
"You can't get any better than Wayne McClain," Sergio McClain said. "If you get a Division I player from Wayne McClain, he will be polished. It won't be a situation where a kid doesn't know how to use his weak hand or what weak-side defense is. Who has his resume at producing as many D-I players as he did at Manual High School and produced a couple NBA players at that. I think it's a good situation for the community, it's a good situation for the athletes and it's a good situation for Champaign Central."
While Sergio obviously expresses sentiments a son might about his father, Henricksen said McClain's grip on Illinois high school basketball in the 1990s is akin to what Chicago Simeon coach Robert Smith has produced by winning six state titles since 2006.
"A lot of times it's just refreshing to get back to being an even bigger influence and to make a bigger impact as a head coach," Henricksen said. "You get the chance to get back to the grind of being a head coach as opposed to being the assistant. I think that can recharge some people and give them a whole new look."
The hiring, however, didn't sit well with Verdell Jones III. The Central graduate led the Maroons to a third-place finish in Class 3A in 2008, played four seasons at Indiana and now plays professionally in Japan, took to his Twitter account (@Vj3_217) on Tuesday afternoon to voice his displeasure.
"I love Wayne like a 2nd dad..but champaign central won't get a penny from me," Jones tweeted at 2:55 p.m. before tweeting at 3:58 p.m. that "man bro like I said I love the McClain family likes its my second Last name but I don't support this."