Central getting 'a jewel' in McClain

Central getting 'a jewel' in McClain

CHAMPAIGN — Wayne McClain can get right to work when he arrives in town.

One item on the to-do list for most people when they relocate from out of state is to find a place to live.

“I still have a house here,” Champaign Central’s new boys’ basketball head coach said. “I never moved.”

An assistant for 11 years at the University of Illinois, McClain followed former Illini coach Bruce Weber to Kansas State last summer. His family remained here.

Soon, they will all be together again unless, McClain quipped, “they change their mind while I’m en route.”

Central’s coaching search to replace veteran Scott Davis ended Tuesday with the announcement of McClain’s hiring.

It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Sometimes opportunities present themselves,” McClain said. “You only get so many chances to be granted an opportunity. This can be a great one.

“I’m up for the challenge. I still have a passion for basketball. This is a win-win for me and, hopefully, a win-win for the kids.”

The 58-year-old McClain said he plans to return to Champaign as many weekends as he can during the next six weeks.

“I’ll finish up the academic year here (at Kansas State), and it will be closer to Memorial Day that I’m back for good,” McClain said.

He is one of the most successful boys’ basketball coaches in state history and will turn his attention to reviving the historically solid Central program.

McClain guided Peoria Manual to three consecutive state championships as head coach, extending a streak of titles to four that started in 1993-94 when he was an assistant under the legendary Dick Van Scyoc. McClain was an assistant at Manual for more than a decade before replacing Van Scyoc, who retired as the state’s all-time winningest basketball coach.

He plans to bring the same philosophy to Central that worked well at Manual.

“Obviously, we are going to guard,” McClain said. “That’s one of the things you can do every night and be consistent at. It will be huge for us, to get after people.

“I want to get up and down the floor, make games a track meet from one end to the other.”

McClain was an Illini assistant for 11 years before joining a Kansas State program that garnered a share of the Big 12 Conference crown.

Weber said Central is getting more than a basketball coach and a person who won more than 88 percent of his games during his first six years at Manual.

“I’ve had the good fortune to be with him the last 10 years,” Weber said. “Obviously, he is a great basketball coach. His record proves that.

“Anyone who has been around him knows he is a better person. It’s great for Champaign Central and the community to have him back. Everyone knows what they created at Peoria Manual, the winning culture there. I think he will bring that to Champaign.”

Central athletic director John Woods said he received 44 “formal applications” for the position and communicated with nearly three dozen candidates either by phone or through email.

Of that group, 10 were granted an interview. McClain, a former National High School Coach of the Year (selected by USA Today in 1997), was one of four to receive a second interview. Woods declined to name the other three finalists, although he said, “it was as deep of a pool as we’ve ever seen.”

“One thing that stood out was that with Wayne’s family in Champaign, he wants to come home and get back to the community he felt a part of when at Illinois,” Woods said. “He is excited to be our seventh head coach in the past 90 years.”

Davis was Central’s coach for 21 years.

McClain’s wife Robin (the Unit 4 director of transportation), son Sergio, daughter Brindeshie and grandson Sergio Jr. all live in Champaign.

Sergio, who played under his father at Peoria Manual before embarking on a career at Illinois, said he is glad to see his father return to the area.

“When a situation like this came about, this was a family decision on how to be reunited as a family,” Sergio said. “It didn’t matter about what level it was at.”

Sergio has a coaching background, having served at Parkland College with the men’s basketball team for one season. He currently coaches the Springfield Xpress, a semi-pro team that plays in the same league former Illini Jereme Richmond played in with the Sauk Valley Predators.

Sergio said if an assistant coaching position at Central was offered to him and the school could match what he’s making coaching the Xpress, he’d gladly accept the role.

“I’m happy for him,” Sergio said. “It’s an opportunity for him to prove once again how great a coach he is. Central is a good fit for him. If there’s anybody other than myself that I would want my kids playing under, it would be him.”

In seven years at Manual, the Rams were 177-35 under Wayne McClain. His first three teams won state titles, and each of his first six teams won at least a regional crown.

Joe Henricksen, publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, said the move should benefit Central given McClain’s high school basketball background.

“He was not just a tremendous coach in Peoria but a figurehead,” Henricksen said. “He was someone who was great for student-athletes and youth in a lot of ways. He’s really going to provide a presence. He did that at Illinois almost as a father figure to a lot of those guys. I think it’s a great hire for Champaign Central.”

Even after being offered the Central job, it wasn’t a given that McClain would accept.

“We talked about it again this morning,” Weber said Tuesday afternoon. “It was a tough decision.”

Beyond the X’s and O’s, Weber said Central has attracted a quality person.

“He cares about the players,” Weber said. “All the years, all the players we’ve had, they will tell you he cared about them more than just as a basketball player. When good times or bad times, he was there for them.

“That toughness and defense they had at Manual has been the foundation of his programs, along with his dedication. There is no doubt he will put hours and hours in. He said it will be a year-round job.”

Former Illinois player Sean Harrington, who also worked with McClain on the sidelines at Illinois, said McClain’s hiring gives instant buzz to the Maroons’ program.

“He gets the most out of his players,” Harrington said. “Any time you’re bringing in a coach that’s won three state titles, that brings excitement to the community and the school. They should expect a fun style, and I don’t think you can find a more qualified high school head coach.”

Even if he hasn’t coached a high school game since 2001.

“He will have the respect of the players,” Harrington said. “It’s difficult now for some of them to follow their high school coach with what AAU programs are going on today and the different people in their ears, but he will bring that credibility.”

Former Central coach Lee Cabutti — for whom the court at Combes Gym is named after — is a fan of the selection.

“I doubt if they’ve ever hired a coach with the credentials he has,” Cabutti said. “He knows how to coach and has been a winner. I can’t hardly believe it.

“I think everybody will feel very positive about this.”

Derrick Booth played at Peoria Manual when McClain was an assistant with the Rams, and the 1991 graduate now coaches his alma mater.

“Champaign Central struck gold,” Booth said. “That was my initial reaction. Not only Champaign Central but also the community. He’s going to be such an asset. They got a jewel.”

One of McClain’s future competitors — Centennial’s Tim Lavin — was a little less enthusiastic.

“Good for them,” Lavin said. “He proved himself in the past and was good enough to be at Division I. I’m sure he will bring great things to them.”

McClain departs from the college game after 12 total years as an assistant.

“I appreciate him helping us establish the program at K-State,” Weber said. “He said, ‘What do you think?’ and I told him, ‘You have to do what’s best for your family.’ Once the season ended, it became a tougher thing for him to be away (from family).”

Woods and McClain will work on putting together the Maroons’ coaching staff, which will include two full-time assistants. As of Tuesday, no one had been offered a position.

“We will interview all worthy candidates and start assembling a staff,” Woods said.
Wayne McClain was a physical education teacher while at Peoria Manual. There are no teaching openings at Central, but Woods said McClain could serve as a substitute.


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IlliniMike05 wrote on April 24, 2013 at 9:04 am

We'll see how much of a "jewel" they got when they realize Frank Williams, Marcus Griffin and Sergio McClain won't be on the roster. If you can't win some state titles with two McDonald's All-Americans and two Mr. Basketballs (who went on to be the backbone of a Top 5 college team), you probably shouldn't coach.


ptevonian wrote on April 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Then again, Frank, Sergio and Marcus did get coaching along the way to become All-Americans -- they didn't emerge from the womb with those skills.  So Wayne should probably get some of that credit...


IlliniMike05 wrote on April 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Not saying he wasn't a good high school coach. He absolutely deserves some credit. But I think it's pretty obvious to say that their talent helped McClain be a state championship coach far more than McClain's coaching made them All-American talents. He didn't coach Marcus to be an agile 6-foot-9, 230-pounder, nor did he coach Frankie to be a ballhandling wizard, much less one with excellent NBA point guard size and athleticism. Hundreds of hours with a ball in his hands on the Peoria playground did that (the ballhandling part; the size/athleticism part, yeah, you kinda came out of the womb with those, don't you?). Serg? Well, he is the coach's son and didn't have the natural skills or prototypical skill/size fit for his college position (and NBA, in Frank's case) that Frank or Marcus had. So, sure. I'll give him a decent amount of credit there.

All I'm saying is I hope folks at Central don't think he's going to turn that program into Manual East unless that kind of talent happens upon him again, which is extremely unlikely. It's a great hire for name value and attention-grabbing and maybe some of the best Champaign-Urbana players will, in fact, gravitate to Central with Wayne there. Could happen. But for perspectives' sake, he took over a program coming off a state title with three big-time players waiting in the wings to keep it going. When those guys left and were replaced by ordinary players, he got ordinary results. He didn't exactly turn the guys who replaced three super-talented high school players into, y'know, super-talented high school players. So I think it's safe to say Frank/Marcus/Serge's talent did more for Wayne's coaching record than Wayne's coaching did for their talent.

It just seems like a move designed to be splashy and win the headlines for a few days, rather than a sound long-term move.

ill_ini wrote on April 24, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I totally agree with your last sentence. I'd be shocked if McClain stays longer than 5 years. I hope it all works out, but it seems more like an AD trying to gain respect back after a dismal sports year at Central.

Illinix4 wrote on April 26, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Hater Alert!

tntsher wrote on April 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Show me an Illinois state championship team without Mc AAs or at least top 100 players. Simeon has a never ending supply of said players going back for years, does that make their coach an average coach? I don't think so. I agree that to expect 3 state champion teams even in the next 10 years is not likely, but McClain is a solid coach and will do a great job with Central. I think if you go back and talk to players that he has coached at both levels you would find all to say he is a great coach and mentor. A good coach builds a culture of pride, effort and confidence, work hard and anything is possible, and when the talent is there....very good things can happen. Does Simeon win it all again this year without JP and/or Kendrick? Not likely, but a culture has been established there and when the talent matches.......State Champ! Lucky for Simeon's coach the pipeline is never ending, but he is also a great coach.

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 25, 2013 at 9:04 am

It doesn't make him an average coach, no. What it does is illustrate how much more important talent is than anything else. And yes, most Illinois state champions have that caliber of player, singular; how many have three of those guys?

McClain was, according to this article, 177-35 at Manual. According to some quick research I did at the IHSA website (here: http://www.ihsa.org/SportsActivities/BoysBasketball/RecordsHistory.aspx ) he was 122-8 in the three championship seasons, plus Frankie's last year. So that makes him 55-27 in three years without those guys.

Great talent: great results. OK talent: OK results. Hey, he did win two regional titles after Frank left, so that and winning 67 percent of his games would indeed be a big step up for Central. Wayne's a big name in Illinois hoops and highly accomplished, but my only point is some of the Central folks are acting like they just hired Bob Hurley or Morgan Wootten, and they didn't.

For long-term results to change the culture of basketball there and build a real foundation, I think they should have hired Finke. I don't think this is a move that has long-term substance or results.


LisaWilliams wrote on April 25, 2013 at 5:04 am

I went to Manual high and played for all four years, and I was amazed at the talent coach McClain had for coaching. We used to go to the games and watch how he and the head coach used to motivate their players to do their best. The games manual played in were always so exciting. I think he will be a great addition to any program he gets accepted to. He's hard working and passionate, and at the end of the day, isn't that really all you need? He commands respect, but gives it back in return. How many coaches at that level really do that anymore? While I had a phenomenal coach in coach Hendricks, I always admired the manual boys coaches. Good luck and GOD bless you coach McClain! Lisa A. Williams 

CecilColeman wrote on April 25, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Wonder if McClain will be able to recruit transfers to Central the way that guy at Simeon does?

Illinix4 wrote on April 26, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Hater Alert!